Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Is Not Ready for Prime Time

I know you have a lot on your mind, people. But if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, let’s talk about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Come on. It’s either him or Jim Jordan.

Perhaps you’ve heard that Kennedy is now running for president as a third-party candidate. Meaning that he’s hoping to appeal to voters who aren’t satisfied with the two probable major party nominees.

These dissatisfied voters would include, I guess, just about everybody. That’s the problem with third-party candidates: Nobody really expects them to win, so voters feel they can express their dissatisfaction without taking any real responsibility.

But in our system, it’s a bad, bad idea. If Kennedy won a bunch of votes in close races, for example — say, in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin — he could tip the entire race to Donald Trump.

Or, yeah, possibly President Biden. I see your ears pricking up at the idea of pro-Biden tippage. But then try to imagine Trump’s reaction if he lost the presidency because of pro-Kennedy votes in a couple of states. We don’t deserve four years of that kind of howling. Let Biden win re-election the normal way.

Kennedy has already made history — this is probably the first nationally known presidential candidate whose siblings greeted his entry with a call for rejection. (“We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country,” a group of them said.)

Pretty stunning, huh? We’ve been down this road a few times on a lower level. Back in 2018, for instance, when the Republican Steve West won a primary for a Missouri House seat, his son announced to the media: “My dad’s a fanatic. He must be stopped.” (He was.)

Several experts I talked with pointed to another 2018 race, when Arizona’s deeply right-wing representative Paul Gosar was hit with an ad featuring his siblings endorsing his primary opponent. (“We’ve got to stand up for our good name. This is not who we are.”)

Of course, there have been other family feuds. Many of us recall with fondness Trump’s niece Mary, the author of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” And to be fair, the Kennedy sibling revolt involved only four of his 10 brothers and sisters. But it’s hard to envision R.F.K. Jr. bragging that not all of his relatives are publicly opposed to his candidacy.

You know, there’s a reality TV show in here somewhere.

Kennedy has been dancing around a presidential bid for a while now, and initially, the one credit you had to give him was that he was planning on a real race, running in Democratic primaries for a real nomination. It’s a killer trek, beginning with those Iowa caucuses in January. So much campaigning, so much money to raise, so many interviews to give.

If you’re Robert Kennedy, some of said interviews will inevitably involve having to explain why you once linked prescription drugs to school shootings. Or why you said that Germans who had to flee Nazi executioners weren’t in as bad a shape as Americans who were supposed to get Covid shots. (Hey, the Germans could “hide in the attic like Anne Frank.”)

It’s easy to understand how R.F.K. Jr. could wake up, look at the political landscape and decide that running for the Democratic presidential nomination in the normal way would not be a truly fun time.

Far easier to just announce you’re a third-party candidate, stick your name on the ballot in the states where it’s easy and quit worrying about the fact that you’d lose every single real party primary you tried to enter.

The point is that you get plenty of attention. While possibly screwing up the results of the election.

It’s no longer clear whether Kennedy would drain votes from Biden or Trump; he has been hanging out with conservative groups more and more, and the right is certainly drawn to his anti-vaccine crusade.

Hmm … feeling a shift in enthusiasm, are you, people?

Don’t go there! We’ll have more than enough trouble just getting through whatever high jinks Trump pulls if he loses again. How do you think he’d behave if the whole thing came down to the 2 percent of the vote in Michigan that was siphoned off by R.F.K. Jr.?

Other countries run their elections differently, but ours has basically always been either-or, with third parties a potential disaster waiting to happen. Wish we could stop here and discuss the time Millard Fillmore ran for another term on his own very strangely named label.

You remember Millard. Got to be president in 1850 when Zachary Taylor died after supposedly eating too many cherries at a Fourth of July party. Fillmore ran in the 1856 election with his anti-immigrant American Party, better known as … yes! The Know-Nothings. Always like to have a Millard moment, but today, we’ve got to move on.

There are a bunch of politicians eyeing or actually running some kind of an independent, third-party bid. Any of them could be capable of messing things up without having a conceivable chance of winning. Looking at you, Senator Joe Manchin. And Cornel West, the professor who … wow, is so never going to be elected anything.

Keep watching. And if this comes up over dinner, don’t forget to mention Millard.

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