On Monday, October 9th, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of one of America’s most iconic Democratic families, announced a pivotal shift in his political journey, deciding to abandon his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and instead forge ahead as an independent candidate in the 2024 election. This decision, confirmed by NBC and announced at an event in Philadelphia, introduces a new dynamic into the upcoming election, potentially positioning Kennedy as a political “spoiler” – a candidate that has nearly no chance of winning but splits the vote enough to impact the outcome of the election.
Kennedy, son of the late United States Attorney General and New York Senator Robert Kennedy and nephew to the late President John F. Kennedy, has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the national Democratic party, even as he lagged significantly behind President Joe Biden in national polls of Democratic voters. His announcement comes amidst a campaign where he has been critical of what he perceives as “corruption in the leadership of both political parties.” Kennedy’s decision to run as an independent is particularly notable given his family’s longstanding association with the Democratic party.
Kennedy, who initially garnered national attention for his anti-vaccine conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic and his opposition to U.S. aid to Ukraine amidst the Russian invasion, has found an unexpected ally in former President Donald Trump. Trump, who is likely to sweep the Republican presidential primary according to polls, praised Kennedy in July, stating, “He’s a very smart guy,” and acknowledging that Kennedy has “hit a little bit of a nerve.”
The shift to run as an Independent is viewed by the White House as a potentially significant threat to Biden’s reelection, especially considering the praise from Trump and Kennedy’s appeal to some far-right figures. Former Senator Hillary Clinton has warned Biden not to underestimate the potential impact of a third-party challenge, recalling the 2016 election where Green Party candidate Jill Stein is believed to have siphoned off key support in pivotal states, possibly tipping the election in Trump’s favor.
Kennedy’s campaign, which has been characterized by his vocal distrust of both political parties and his alignment with some far-right figures, will undoubtedly introduce a new layer of complexity to the 2024 election. His decision to run as an independent raises numerous questions about the potential impact on the election and how his candidacy might influence the political landscape as the race for the presidency unfolds.