President Biden officially launched his re-election campaign this week, but he isn't the only candidate for the 2024 Democratic nomination. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — son of a presidential candidate and senator, and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, both of whom were assassinated in the 1960s — has also thrown his hat in the ring, as has best-selling author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson.
Kennedy and Williamson are long shots, to say the least. Biden led RFK Jr. by 60 percentage points in a Morning Consult poll taken earlier this month. Williamson is even farther behind the president. But Kennedy did get the backing of 10 percent of the survey participants, a bigger share than some of former President Donald Trump's rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination have received in polls of the GOP race. The first poll after Kennedy announced his bid showed him with 14 percent of the Democratic vote.
Kennedy says he's out to lead "a new revolution to resurrect American democracy." But his reputation as an anti-vaccine advocate has limited appeal among Democrats, and even some of the party's most prominent members — his own relatives — reportedly don't plan to vote for him. "Most of the Kennedys are disgusted with his attitude," said Kennedy family biographer Laurence Leamer, referring to Robert's anti-vax activism, according to the New York Post. "They still care about him, but he's an embarrassment."
RFK Jr. only shows Democrats how lucky they are with Biden
Neither RFK Jr. nor Marianne Williamson poses a serious challenge to President Biden, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. New York magazine called RFK Jr. "The Kennedy That Matters" in back 1995 when he was scoring "environment victories" as a lawyer. But he has discredited himself with the "same fatal flaw" as Williamson — an obsession with dangerous conspiracy theories about vaccines. Still, "both are also centering the highly relevant critique that America has betrayed the middle class." It's good for Democrats to have Kennedy and Williamson in the race, because both "are giving voice to valid concerns held by young, stressed-out voters that Biden needs to hear — and that the president might ignore if he were unopposed in the primaries."
RFK Jr. tweeted that he is running to "end the corrupt merger between state and corporate power," said Jack Ohman in The Sacramento Bee. But liberals already "have Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to make that point far more compellingly than RFK Jr., and there are lots of young potential Democratic presidential candidates who will articulate that going forward." There was a time when RFK Jr. might have rekindled the Kennedy magic, but now he's just destroying the "family brand." His father's campaign in 1968 "actually stood for something: End the war in Vietnam and strengthen social justice." RFK Jr. just stands for RFK Jr. "We already have a delusional, conspiracy-driven 2024 candidate, and he just got indicted in Manhattan."
RFK Jr. can't win, but he can damage Biden's campaign
The press always tries to help "the Democratic politicians whom it favors" win elections, so it "has thus far underplayed the threat that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. poses to President Biden's bid for a second term," said Charles C.W. Cooke in National Review. It's true that no sitting president since 1856 has "sought and lost his party's nomination for re-election." But a serious challenge never helps an incumbent president's chances as nominee. "And, at the moment, RFK Jr.'s challenge is, indeed, serious." The 14 percent he got in his first poll is "an astonishingly high number for a newly declared candidate." Challengers "scramble the narrative," and Biden is so vulnerable that rewriting his script "might well prove lethal."
Biden's 2020 challengers like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, "have been co-opted into his administration," said Ross Douthat in The New York Times, and "the rising generation of Democratic governors — Gavin Newsom, Jared Polis, Gretchen Whitmer, and Josh Shapiro — have positioned themselves (Newsom especially) for the post-Biden landscape, ready to step in only if he steps out." So RFK Jr.'s candidacy is "an interesting test case." He's "way outside" the liberal mainstream, but his name appeals to the "older-Democrat nostalgia" of the party mainstream and "his anticorporate crankiness" appeals to the left wing. If he does well enough, maybe a more "credible alternative" will see that Biden's "age and fitness issues alone" have made it possible for a legitimate rival to reach the "30 percent threshold" that could make the Democratic primary a real race.