RFK a serious third-party ‘spoiler’ who can help Trump win
RFK Jr. is promoting a long list of conspiracy theories that have attracted support form the extreme right. | Matt Rourke/AP

Efforts to get a third-party “No Labels” line on the ballot collapsed as organizers conceded they couldn’t find a viable presidential candidate. A “unity ticket” potentially threatened President Biden’s reelection.

However, the threat of a third-party “spoiler” has not gone away; it has shifted to the candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who announced his running mate, multi-millionaire CEO Nicole Shanahan, on March 26.

If the anti-MAGA majority is united and votes strategically in the 2024 elections, Biden can defeat Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and Democrats could gain Congressional majorities. The GOP/MAGA fascists know this well. One essential strategy to defeat Biden is propping up third-party campaigns to split the anti-MAGA coalition.

Trump has a numbers problem. He couldn’t crack 47% of the vote in either 2016 or 2020 and shows no signs of significantly expanding his voter base in 2024. Trump is a weaker candidate now, having amassed 91 felony indictments, and non-MAGA voters widely see him as a serial rapist, fraudster, narcissist, and liar. He is more dangerous and erratic, and his rhetoric is more hateful and violent. Trump has repulsed a section of GOP voters who will never vote for him.

So, Trump’s most likely path to victory is by winning a plurality. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. They prevailed twice with pluralities due to third parties lowering the winning threshold, prevailing in the Electoral College.

Indeed, Trump and MAGA aim to win by suppressing Biden voters, mobilizing the MAGA base with appeals to white Christian nationalism, and promoting third parties to draw voters who will not vote for him but have qualms about voting for Biden. Biden’s problem is that even without the third party threats to his re-election, there are significant blocks of voters in key swing states who are angry about his support for the war on the people of Gaza. Analysts have said that absent a reversal of that policy his re-election effort could be in serious trouble.

MAGA strategists hope to win the Electoral College outright or attain narrow outcomes in enough battleground states to dispute the election results and carry out one of several “coup” schemes by throwing the election to a MAGA-dominated U.S. House of Representatives to decide.

Promoting Cornel West, Jill Stein, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the failed “No Labels” campaigns are all part of the MAGA fraud to steal the 2024 election. “Trump needs to split the anti-Trump coalition. If we’re united he can’t win, if we’re split he can,” said Pat Dennis of American Bridge, a Democratic Party-aligned opposition research group. “We see (Kennedy and No Labels) essentially as an arm of the Trump campaign, and we intend to treat it as such.”

The tell is that all these candidates are directing their fire at Biden, not Trump. For example, Kennedy preposterously told CNN’s Erin Burnett, “Biden is absolutely a bigger threat (to democracy),” brushing aside the January 6 insurrection, calls for political violence, and plans for mass deportations and concentration camps to imprison political opponents and other fascist plans contained in the Project 2025 Agenda.

Kennedy maintained that Biden was a bigger danger because “he’s the first president in history to use federal agencies to censure political speech of his opponents,” undermining the First Amendment, and he accused Biden of censoring him.

But this is a lie. Biden pushed social media companies to monitor online activity for medical disinformation. Instagram, a private company, temporarily banned Kennedy for spreading dangerous anti-vaccine disinformation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on money alone, it appears MAGA strategists and their extreme right-wing billionaire backers see Kennedy’s campaign as the best chance to be, in the words of Steve Bannon, a “useful chaos agent” to throw the election to Trump and a vector to spread disinformation and GOP talking points.

Bannon reportedly worked for months to convince Kennedy to oppose Biden in the Democratic Party primaries to sow discord and spread anti-vaccine disinformation. Kennedy also received support from the Heal the Divide PAC with ties to Marjorie Taylor Greene and was promoted by right-wing cable host Tucker Carlson before Fox fired him.

After Kennedy decided to run as an independent, some right-wing media cooled on him, fearful he would draw votes from Trump.

The proof is in the filings

However, the January campaign filings prove Kennedy’s campaign is a “stalking horse” for Trump. The single largest donor for Trump, Tim Mellon of the extreme right Mellon-Scaife billionaire family, is also the single largest donor for Kennedy. The Kennedy campaign has raised $40 million, $20 million from Mellon.

Previously, Harlan Crowe, the right-wing billionaire, a force behind the Federalist Society’s corruption of the Supreme Court and principal patron of Justice Clarence Thomas, made a maximum donation to West’s campaign. An uproar forced West to return the donation.

Shanahan, a multi-millionaire and tech industry CEO, has poured $4.5 million of her money into the campaign and may be the first vice presidential candidate to buy herself a spot on a ticket. None of Kennedy’s other choices panned out, and Kennedy desperately needed a running mate to qualify for the ballot legally.

So far, Kennedy is on the ballot in Utah and North Carolina, a battleground state. However, the campaign aims to achieve ballot status in all 50 states.

Besides his family name, RFK Jr, the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, rose to prominence as an environmental lawyer and grifter in the anti-vaccine movement, spreading disinformation, particularly in African American and Latino communities and zany conspiracy theories, including that vaccines cause autism and people to become gay. The Center to Counter Digital Hate lists Kennedy and his Children’s Health Defense as #2 among its Disinformation Dozen.

Kennedy has also spread anti-LGBTQI, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic hate and disinformation and supports a 15-week abortion and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) bans. He also supports repealing President Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act, which drives a green energy transition, while he tries to appeal to voters concerned about the climate crisis.

Virtually the entire Kennedy family has denounced him and endorsed Biden. The family of Cesar Chavez also endorsed Biden and demanded Kennedy remove all references to the labor and civil rights leader from campaign commercials.

Polling shows Kennedy will draw votes from both Trump and Biden, but more from Biden. According to Lis Smith, who heads up a Democratic Party team focused on these third-party schemes, Kennedy could draw significant support from voters familiar with his family name but not his politics and those who refuse to vote for Trump but have qualms about voting for Biden.

Kennedy casts himself as a populist and claims Trump and Biden are both creatures of the corrupt merger of corporations and the state that threatens to undermine democracy. He can tap into the anti-vax and conspiracy-believing constituencies, hatred of Big Pharma, and voters disenchanted with the two-party system.

Multiple parties representing various interests contesting for power makes sense under a parliamentary system. However, the U.S. reality is a two-party system that offers a binary, winner-take-all choice, with each party reflecting coalitions of different classes and social forces.

The most reactionary forces dominate the GOP, including right-wing billionaires, white Christian nationalists, and fascists. Grouped around the Democratic party, in addition, of course, to numerous business interests, are broad constituencies in the African American, Latino, and other people of color communities, organized labor, and other mass democratic movements. Some capitalist concerns still committed to constitutional democracy are also in the mix around the Democratic Party.

With so much at stake, there’s no getting around the binary choice voters face – the winner will either be Trump or Biden – or the danger third parties pose in tipping a close outcome.

Despite broad opposition among Democratic-aligned voters to Biden’s foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine, his reelection offers the best opportunities to consolidate political and economic gains won in the last four years. A resounding victory could shift the political balance of forces and create new space for mass democratic movements to advance expanded democratic rights and electoral reform, environmental and social justice, and a peaceful foreign policy. Trump only offers fascism.

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John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.