A blue-eyed Kennedy is running for president. What could go wrong?

by Patricia Murphy

Across the Oval Office from President Joe Biden’s fine mahogany desk sits a small, discreet bust of Robert Kennedy, the brother of President John Kennedy and the man whom Biden calls a hero and his North Star for policies that address the best interests of people.

Now the eldest son of Robert Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is mounting a presidential challenge to Biden. What began as a sort of nuisance challenge in the Democratic primary quickly morphed into an independent presidential bid — and a potential problem for both Biden and former President Donald Trump. With his famous name and none-of-the-above platform, Kennedy just posted a healthy 22% share of the vote in two recent national polls that tested a three-way race between Kennedy, Biden and Trump.

It’s not exactly clear who Kennedy would damage the most since his hodgepodge of policies seem to draw as much from Trump’s COVID skeptics as Biden’s progressive base. Add to that a plurality of independent voters, as Kennedy did in those polls, and you’ve got a potential race on your hands.

Several things have to happen for an independent candidate to actually become viable in a presidential contest in America, not the least of which is getting onto the ballot in all 50 states.

But Kennedy has made it clear in several interviews recently that Georgia is one of five battleground states he’s most focused on. It may surprise you to know that he’s already been to Georgia more this year than Trump and Biden combined.

Since launching his independent bid, Kennedy stumped in Duluth and Atlanta in September, in Augusta in October and in Savannah just last week. Along with the question of whether he’ll actually be on the 2024 ballot, which will require thousands of Georgians’ signatures, the bigger question for voters considering him is … who is this guy?

We know he’s got the famous last name and blue eyes of the Kennedys, but is he an eccentric kook, as he’s often portrayed in the press, or an independent’s’ savior? He’s offered a trail of clues during his visits here so far.

At first glance, or listen, the raspy-voiced lawyer’s declarations could be music to any independent’s ears.

“I’m not doing this to serve some need for my ego, I’m doing this because I know I can change this country and bring it back,” he told attendees at his Duluth rally. “The way they keep us from doing it is they have us all fighting each other. They turn Blacks against whites…they turn Democrats against Republicans, at each other’s throats.”

At that event and others he focused heavily on economic issues like home ownership, which many voters under 30 could tell you feels more out of reach than ever.

“The American dream has turned into a nightmare,” he says in one social media post. “When Americans become renters, we go from citizens to serfs on our own land, where the big shots own all the land and all the homes.”

But along with his independent message and middle-class mantra, he’s also got more than the average bear’s level of conspiracy-adjacent language.

Spread across his message of unity are lots of “theys” — the bankers and the billionaires he said are behind nearly everything wrong in America over the last 50 years, from the Vietnam War to 9/11 to COVID.

Amazon got to close its competitors during COVID, he said in Duluth, and then they censored his book that detailed it all.

In Augusta, he said, “My uncle realized that the purpose of the intelligence agencies was to provide us a pipeline of constant wars. We’re addicted to it.”

And what about the vaccines? He said in a recent interview on The NewsHour that his position as an anti-vaxxer has been overblown by the press. He said in the same interview he considers all abortions a tragedy, but that the decision ought to stay with women. He said he’d “seal” the Southern border and create a universal “passport card” for all Americans to easily prove their work status at jobs.

So is he wonderful? Or a weirdo? His family members seem to think he’s the latter.

On the day he announced he’d swapped from a Democratic bid to an independent bid, which could turn him into a spoiler for Joe Biden, his siblings called his run against Biden dangerous for the country.

“Bobby might share the same name as our father,” they wrote in a statement. “But he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.”

His nephew, Jack Schlosberg accused him of “trading in on Camelot, celebrity, conspiracy theories and conflict for personal gain and fame.”

They’re all voting for Biden. But they’re not speaking for all Americans or even all Democrats.

Could he be a spoiler? Of course. But he doesn’t seem to care.

“The Democrats are frightened that I’m going to spoil the election for President Biden, and the Republicans are frightened that I’m going to spoil it for Trump,” said RFK Jr. at his announcement rally. “My intention is to spoil it for both of them.”

There’s no way to know now whether Kennedy will be the next Ralph Nader, the next Ross Perot, or greater or less than them both.

But he’s sitting high enough in the polls now that Biden and Trump should understand that Robert Kennedy’s son isn’t satisfied with being in the background in the Oval Office. He wants to be out front.

Patricia Murphy joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s politics team in 2020 from CQ-Roll Call, where she was a nationally syndicated political columnist.