Republican contender for president Donald Trump is preparing to go on the attack against Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in light of Kennedy’s announcement that he is running as an independent in the 2024 race.
Kennedy announced his presidential run on Monday. Conventional wisdom would suggest that, as a member of the family that has been synonymous with Democratic Party politics for the last 60 years, Kennedy would draw more votes away from Democratic President Joe Biden, who is attempting to win reelection in 2024.
However, Trump’s campaign is reportedly worried that Kennedy, who openly espouses far right (and antisemitic) conspiracy theories relating to COVID-19, vaccinations, and more, will draw votes away from Trump in a general election.
According to reporting from Semafor, which spoke to several Trump campaign officials, internal polling from Trump’s team indicates that Kennedy’s run would hurt Trump’s campaign more than Biden’s. Although Semafor hasn’t verified the polling, the admission, which is somewhat embarrassing for Trump, likely wouldn’t be shared with the media company by campaign insiders if it weren’t true.
The polling also suggests that Kennedy’s candidacy will likely take more votes from Trump than independent candidate Cornel West’s candidacy will take from Biden.
“It’s single digits, but it’s enough where it counts to make a difference,” a source within the Trump campaign said.
As a result, the campaign is planning to go on the attack against Kennedy, spotlighting his liberal stances on some topics while downplaying the conspiracy theories that make him appealing to Trump supporters.
“We’re gonna be dropping napalm after napalm on his head reminding the public of his very liberal views, dating back to 2012. We have a lot of stuff on him,” another source close to Trump told Semafor.
The Trump campaign began attacking Kennedy’s candidacy immediately after he announced his decision to run as an independent. “Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said on CNN on Monday.
Fox News, apparently taking a cue from the Trump campaign, has also been more critical of Kennedy now that he’s an independent candidate. Network host Sean Hannity, for instance, used a more combative tone toward Kennedy in a Tuesday night interview, leaving Kennedy “visibly stunned,” The New Republic’s Tori Otten noted.
The attacks come just a few months after Trump lavished Kennedy with praise, likely believing at the time that Kennedy’s presidential run would be a nuisance for Biden during the Democratic primaries next year.
“He’s a very smart person. I know a lot of the members of that family, and he’s a very smart guy,” Trump said in July about Kennedy. “And he’s hit a little bit of a nerve. And a lot of Democrats I know want to vote for him.”
The complete 180 by Trump and his surrogates may not work, Salon senior writer Amanda Marcotte opined, as the two will still be fighting for the same voters, despite their ideological differences.
“The slice of voters Trump and Kennedy could be competing over aren’t defined by political beliefs that map neatly onto concepts like ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative,'” Marcotte wrote on Wednesday. “Instead, they’re fighting over the crank vote: People who are addicted to gobbling down kooky, bizarre and above all, false information. The QAnon crowd, in other words.”
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