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RFK Jr. Turns Left
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RFK Jr. Turns Left

His choice of running mate shows the independent’s growing danger to Democrats.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tapped California attorney Nicole Shanahan as his running mate for vice president during an event in Oakland, California, on March 26, 2024. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A couple of months ago, I argued that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might pose a more significant threat to the electoral hopes of former President Donald Trump than to Kennedy’s former fellow Democrat, President Joe Biden.

My reasoning was based on several things, but principally that Kennedy’s only reliable path to ballot access was through the Libertarian Party, whose members Kennedy had been assiduously courting. To win the Libertarian nod at the party’s May convention, the longtime environmental activist would have to play up his anti-government radicalism (e.g. on vaccine mandates) instead of his ecological radicalism.

Kennedy’s other positions, like his unabashed support for Israel in its war with Hamas but opposition to support for Ukraine, line up very nicely with the current mood of the nationalist right. As does his tough stances on border security and access to elective abortions. Anti-vax, anti-Ukraine, pro-Israel, pro-border crackdown, and pro-life? Put this guy in the Freedom Caucus, already.

But Kennedy’s greatest threat to Trump’s support among the MAGA base is on vibes. Where Trump finds himself trying to maintain his posture as simultaneously a transgressive outsider intent on disrupting the system and the maximum leader of a major political party, Kennedy can pretty much say or do whatever he likes. While Trump has to both say that he is too rich to be bought and look to billionaires for bailouts, Kennedy remains the consummate outsider’s insider.

All of that remains true, but the way forward for Kennedy other than the Libertarians is to really try to make a go of winning ballot access in all 50 states. And for many states, an additional hurdle—beyond massive petition drives and onerous bureaucratic requirements—is to have a running mate, something major parties don’t need to worry about for five months or so.

So when Kennedy this week chose his running mate, we got our best look yet at where the presidential nephew is heading. And it sure wasn’t to the right.

Nicole Shanahan, 38, is a lawyer, an environmental activist, and a tech entrepreneur in her own right, in addition to being the ex-wife of one of Google’s founders (who has a net worth of perhaps $130 billion).  

She certainly holds some right-wing-sounding positions, like her longtime opposition to in vitro fertilization. But her objections don’t seem so much rooted in concerns about the sanctity of life as in what she says are abuses by the “fertility industry” and its failure to address “the environmental factors that impact women’s reproductive health.”  

Not a pick that would warm up the disciples of Ludwig von Mises

“I think that a lot of Libertarians are a little bit confused over why he chose Nicole Shanahan,” Libertarian National Committee Chairwoman Angela McArdle said in a recent interview with NewsNation. “I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but she doesn’t necessarily fit into alignment with any of our views.”

What Shanahan does have is the ability to bankroll the expensive effort to get Kennedy on the ballot, a willingness she already demonstrated by funding a $5 million ad boosting Kennedy’s campaign during this year’s Super Bowl. Young, rich, lefty, Californian, and Asian-American, Shanahan seems very much the running mate one would pick to go after disaffected Democrats, not mad-as-hell MAGA men.

And that’s a big problem for Biden.

The conventional wisdom among Democrats has been that Kennedy might do well among some older voters because of the longtime attachment to his family’s famous name. But some new polling suggests that’s not the big problem for the blue team. 

In the latest Quinnipiac poll, among voters ages 18 to 34, Kennedy got 21 percent of their support in a three-way race with Trump and Biden, compared to 13 percent overall. 

That’s echoed by a new poll from Split Ticket that found 23 percent of voters under 30 backing Kennedy, 25 percent backing Trump, and 35 percent backing Biden. Biden won 60 percent of that age group in 2020.

We can take Kennedy at his word that he’s running to win. That’s about as likely as Donald Trump choosing the Easter Bunny as his running mate, but Kennedy believes a lot of wild things. So who knows?

But if Kennedy isn’t going to win, what might his secondary goal be? It seems increasingly likely that the lifelong Democrat and scion of the party’s most famous family might be more interested in forcing change in his own team than pushing Republicans to reform in his direction.

Democrats can be happy that No Labels looks like a mess, but the leftward turn by Kennedy is rightly concerning to Biden boosters. He’s got a long way to go to get enough ballot access, but the chance that Kennedy could play Ross Perot to Biden’s George H.W. Bush looks more and more like reality.


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STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.0%
Average disapproval: 57.4%
Net score: -18.4 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.2 points

Change from one month ago: ↑ 0.2 points

[Average includes: Fox News: 41% approve-58% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 37% approve-59% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 40% approve-56% disapprove; CNBC: 39% approve-56% disapprove; Grinnell/Selzer: 38% approve-58% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: SHE KNOWS HOW TO SPIN A YARN 

Smithsonian: “What sets Thistle Hill Weavers in Central New York apart from every other cloth manufacturer in the country is [Susan ‘Rabbit’ Goody’s] remarkable ability to re-animate the past: No one else produces short runs of textiles that so faithfully replicate the weave, texture, weight and color of historic fabrics. … Many of her favorite jobs have come from Hollywood costume designers seeking perfectly rendered, historically accurate textiles to recreate items like Abraham Lincoln’s shawl for the movie Lincoln or much of the colonial-era clothing seen in the 2008 mini-series ‘John Adams.’ … And at 72, Goody is still out in her barn every morning at 4:15 feeding the horses. ‘People ask me all the time when I’m going to retire from the mill,’ Goody says … ‘I don’t see any reason to. I love what I do.’ … For now, she remains at her post in the mill each day, happily quizzing clients on the phone, training weavers, inspecting fabric, creating samples and rushing orders for costume designers, all the while bringing us closer to a past that, thanks to her, feels newly tangible.”


TRUMP LAGS BEHIND BIDEN IN BATTLEGROUND INVESTMENT

AP: “The Trump campaign and its partners at the Republican National Committee haven’t yet made significant general election investments in Michigan. … The national committee … hasn’t transferred any money to the state party to help bolster its operations heading into the general election. There are no specific programs in place to court voters of color. And there’s no general election field staff in place. … Trump’s political operation has been slow to pivot toward the general election in the weeks after executing a hostile takeover of the Republican Party’s national political machinery. … Indeed, just six months before the first early votes are cast in the general election between Trump and Biden, Trump’s Republican Party has little general election infrastructure to speak of. … This month alone, Biden opened 100 new offices and added more than 350 new staffers in swing states from Arizona to Georgia to Pennsylvania.”

Reelect on the offensive in North Carolina: NBC News: “Republicans have a long history of success at the presidential level in North Carolina over the past 40 years, losing only once when Barack Obama carried the state in 2008. But Biden’s loss there in 2020 was the closest a Democrat has come since then. … That’s encouraged Democrats to be much more proactive in North Carolina this time around, particularly as it’s the only front-line swing state Biden did not carry in 2020. Already, his campaign has staffed up top positions and included the state in its $25 million battleground state ad buy. Biden’s visit Tuesday marked his second visit to the state this year. … Surveys so far show Trump ahead. … Couple those results with Trump having already pulled off back-to-back victories here, and his team is feeling good about their chance to make it three in a row.”

Dems hope ‘reverse coattails’ boost Biden: Politico: “[Josh Stein’s North Carolina gubernatorial] race is one of a handful of key down-ballot contests that, Democrats hope, could have major implications for the presidential race. They are, to a degree, banking on a number of Trump-allied conservative candidates running in key states — candidates whose vulnerabilities complement and amplify Trump’s own — turning out Democrats and helping Biden crystallize his argument about the dangers of ‘MAGA Republicans.’ … ‘It goes against everything we know about politics, but yes, there are statewide coattails this year,’said Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic pollster. … Democrats see the best opportunity for an up-ballot effect in two critical battlegrounds: Arizona and North Carolina. … While reverse coattails may be historically rare, there are data points to suggest the outcome can happen.”

Haley supporters get the cold shoulder from Trump: New York Times: “The question is whether Mr. Trump’s decision to bypass any sort of reconciliation with Ms. Haley after a brutal and personal primary will matter. Even out of the race, Ms. Haley has continued to pull in a significant number of voters in ongoing primary contests. Across the five swing states that have held primaries so far — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada — a total of about 750,000 people cast ballots for Ms. Haley. … The Biden team sees an opening to exploit, and it has begun testing the effectiveness of different messages to determine how to sway disenchanted Haley supporters to their side. … Now, senior Biden officials said they are in near daily conversations with Ms. Haley’s financial supporters.”

But were they Biden voters all along?: New York Times: “In the Republican primary in Georgia, Ms. Haley received 13.2 percent of the vote. … The vote history data offers a few clues suggesting that Mr. Trump doesn’t have much to worry about here — or at least nothing new to worry about. Most of these voters already backed Mr. Biden in the 2020 election and continue to back him in 2024. … That data shows that about 10 percent of voters in this month’s Republican primary had voted in a Democratic primary in the last eight years — a good indication that they may have been Democrats voting in a Republican contest. … The similarity between the Republican primary results and the poll responses of Republican primary voters suggest that most of Mr. Trump’s weakness in the primary simply came from those already inclined to back Mr. Biden in 2020 and 2024.”

TESTER, BROWN DESPERATELY DODGE A NATIONAL RACE

Politico: “Both [Montana Sen. Jon Tester]’s and [Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown]’s prospects essentially hinge on how successfully they can emphasize local investments they helped secure in Democrats’ big bills and their representation of their own constituents — rather than their key roles in determining who runs the Senate next year. … For now, Democrats feel the rough Ohio GOP primary delivered them a more favorable result than Montana will. Donald Trump-backed Bernie Moreno won Ohio’s Republican contest this week. … Brown and Tester will have to convince voters that they represent their red states better than Republican opponents could. That will mean finding novel ways to serve their voters and trying to disqualify their challengers, but also keeping distance from the national party. … For Republicans, the two states stick out: Even if Biden wins reelection as Trump falters in swing states, Montana and Ohio are still eminently winnable for their Senate candidates.” 

Murphy calls it quits, clearing path for Kim: New York Times: “Tammy Murphy, New Jersey’s first lady, has ended her run for a U.S. Senate seat. … Ms. Murphy said that she had concluded that continuing to compete in the Democratic primary against Representative Andy Kim, a third-term congressman from South Jersey, would mean waging a ‘very divisive and negative campaign.’ … Her exit makes Mr. Kim an odds-on favorite to become New Jersey’s next senator and the first Korean American member of the U.S. Senate. … In the midst of the high-stakes primary contest, Mr. Kim filed a lawsuit that directly challenged an essential component of the state’s electoral system — a ballot structure designed to benefit the favored candidates of local political leaders. … Ms. Murphy’s path to victory was heavily dependent on the institutional support she had amassed.” 

Black House Dems back Alsobrooks after Trone slip-up: Axios: “Five Black House Democrats are endorsing Democrat Angela Alsobrooks in her Maryland Senate bid, days after her primary opponent apologized for using a racial slur in a House hearing. … [David] Trone used a racial slur in a House hearing last week. He apologized on Friday, saying he meant to use the word ‘bugaboo.’ Trone is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary. … Over $29 million has already been spent in the race. … That makes it the third most expensive primary in the country, with Trone, a wealthy businessman, accounting for 97% of that spending.”

BRIEFLY

Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster to retire, opening light-blue New Hampshire seat—Axios

Democrat wins Alabama special after IVF-focused campaign—Yellowhammer News

SCOTUS looks likely to reject challenge to abortion pill—NBC News

WITHIN EARSHOT: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS 

“The Republican Party continues to lie and swindle its voter base. I in good conscience cannot affiliate myself with a party that stands for nothing and falls for everything.”—Expelled Rep. George Santos announces he is leaving the GOP and running in New York’s 1st Congressional District as an independent. 


MAILBAG

“I read your blurbs about President Biden smoking Trump in fundraising early on. Why do you think that is? I can’t help but think part of it is the nagging thought that their campaign donation will eventually be a legal fund donation.  I know some people might not mind that, but they’ve probably already spent their disposable income on commemorative gold Trump coins and don’t have anything left for a straight donation.”Craig Berry, Frankfort, Illinois

Mr. Berry,

That’s no doubt part of the story, but the big-buck bankrollers of Trump’s past campaigns seem to be coming online, including for the former president’s legal fees, both directly and indirectly.

Another part of the story is that incumbency comes with substantial fundraising advantages. If Trump’s donors are betting on the idea that they might end up with a friend in the White House, Biden’s donors can get whatever benefits, real or imagined, right away. Influence and access aren’t the motivations for every donation, but whatever the portion driven by those motives may be, it’s surely not zero.

Regardless of Biden’s own reliance on the wealthy and well-connected, you can expect Democrats to launch lots of attacks against Trump for being beholden to shadowy billionaires who the members of the blue team will say have put Trump in their deep pockets by bailing him out of his financial straits. 

As for the small-dollar donors who were so much a part of Trump’s former fundraising prowess, I think there’s some truth to the argument that they are suffering from donor fatigue after nine years of clicking “donate now,” including the huge sums that were dumped down the drain in 2021. But there’s something else, too: They may not really believe Trump needs their money.

If you lived inside the MAGA media cocoon, you might be inclined to believe not just that Trump has an edge in his rematch with Biden, but that Trump is a shoo-in. He dispatched his primary rivals with the seeming flick of the wrist and talks incessantly about his alleged domination of general election polls. 

I suspect as the general election heats up and Trump finds himself in a more competitive race, he will trade some of that bravado for desperate pleas to MAGA America to bail him out.

All best,

c

“I read your article today regarding Trump’s victimhood appeal. Let me first say I am no Biden apologist or even a fan, but even as a conservative voter I will never vote for Trump. I think he uses the media as free advertising with all his despicable antics. Biden on the other hand is just a story for the media to tell. … Again, I am a conservative voter normally, but there are a few so-called Republicans running for office who have either endorsed Trump or follow his lead [who] I will not support with my vote. The American electorate has been given a poor choice in this coming election and my greatest fear is that we will end up with Harris serving out Biden’s second term. Trump will not win this election because of who he is and what he continues to do to this country. Most Americans are smarter than him and will not abide by giving him another term in office to do more harm than good. Any good he accomplished in his first term was because of the people around him and his own incompetence.”John James, Austin, Texas

Mr. James,

A friend of mine, a veteran and very astute observer and practitioner of politics, put it to me this way: “Trump can’t win, but Biden could lose.”

That pretty well sums it up. I don’t think Trump will be able to rebuild his coalition from 2020, having bled so much support from moderate Republicans and persuadable independents. But it is certainly possible that members of Biden’s party, incensed on the issue of Israel and potentially disaffected by what I predict will be a further rightward turn on border security, will leave him to languish.

What Biden is betting is that fear of Trump will be sufficient to mobilize progressives in a way that can’t be matched by the GOP with its own base. And there’s good evidence to support that thesis. 

What we don’t yet know, though, is how well Trump and his campaign can do at mollifying the skeptics. Will Trump, for example, choose a running mate that reassures his core supporters or plays to the middle?

Biden can’t pretend not to be old, but Trump can sometimes pretend not to be unhinged. 

All best,

c


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the crosstab-surfing Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: HE’S GOT IT COVERED

Former President Donald Trump signs items for a crowd of supporters at the Fort Dodge Senior High School on November 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump signs items for a crowd of supporters at the Fort Dodge Senior High School on November 18, 2023, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

We encounter this week another of the iron laws of the Cutline Contest: Pictures that are themselves funny are actually harder to write jokes about. Former President Donald Trump at an Iowa campaign rally holding up a signed copy of the March, 1990 edition of Playboy featuring, of course, himself.

When the picture itself is a joke, what’s an aspiring humorist to do? Very often, the correct answer is to go straight at the obvious gag, but to do it with a little élan and wordplay. And that’s how our winner got into the March cutline contest on this final week: 

“I read it strictly for the articles of impeachment.”—Blake Royal, Houston, Texas

Winner, Strike That Division:

“Trump poses with Bible Playboy in front of Church.”—Will Bates, St. Louis, Missouri

Winner, The Real Victim Division:

“I’ve been victimized for YEARS by women who just start peeling their clothes off when they get next to me!!”—Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas

Winner, His Word is His Bond Division:

“Everybody is saying it’s the greatest piece of presidential memorabilia ever. Just tremendous! Greater than Washington’s teeth and Abe’s hat even. And it’s signed by your favorite president, Me! So let’s start the bidding at, say, $464 million.”—Nick Burling, Willoughby, Ohio

Winner, Canadian Paramours Division:

“The Donald shouts excitedly, ‘Hey everybody, my girlfriend’s in here!’”—Steve Wilson, Batavia, Ohio

Winner, All of the Top Generals Division:

“They said, ‘Sir, Sir she might be out of your league.’ Out of my league?  Are you kidding?”—Dave Landry, Lynnfield, Massachusetts

Winner, Find Some Bunny to Love Division:

“Playboy has always been my primary source for news, and now it’s helping me develop my short list for VP candidates!”—Folsom Bell, Dallas, Texas

Winner, Watch Out Burt Reynolds Division:

“Former President says Hef asked him to pose for April foldout.”—Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Editorial Bored Division:

“I’m pleased to announce that another major publication has endorsed me.”—Bob Bell, Roseville, California

Winner, Readers Indigestion Division:

“I have too read a book.”—Allen Mabry, Dallas, Texas

This week’s winner joined our other March weekly winners for a chance at glory, political memorabilia and a shot at winning the big prize, our annual ham award. 

But the March champion leveraged the power of Gen X pop culture for a photo of then-presidential candidate Nikki Haley holding a baby during a South Carolina campaign stop. Daniel Summers of Knoxville, Tennessee won our own Final Four with: “Nikki Haley, seen here with what she called a ‘delicious child.’”

Please send us your mailing address, Mr. Summers, so you can receive your prize, a pair of magnets inspired by The Simpsons’ 1996 episode Treehouse of Horror VII and its election spoof, Citizen Kang. One reads, “Twirling, Twirling, Twirling Towards Freedom,” and the other, “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos.” 


SMOOTH AS BUTTER

New York Post: “A woman in Australia started her day with some morning yoga — in the parking lot of a bakery she allegedly burglarized minutes later. The ‘flexible’ bandit was filmed doing a yoga routine and stretching by the bakery’s surveillance camera immediately before she broke into the pastry shop at around 3 a.m. and swiped some croissants. … The bakery added a song from ‘Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol’ soundtrack over the clip which shows the woman dressed in all black rolling around the parking lot doing leg and body stretches. … ‘Is this about working off the calories of the croissants before they steal them?’ they wrote under the bakery’s post. … The burglar, a 44-year-old Richmond woman, snatched the buttery, flakey pastries along with a pair of shoes, an iPad and cleaning products.” 

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.