“There’s a Big Concern”: Trumpworld Is Afraid of RFK Jr. Playing 2024 Spoiler

When The New York Times published its recent poll that showed Donald Trump beating Joe Biden in five out of six battleground states, Democrats went into panic mode. “This will send tremors of doubt thru the party—not ‘bed-wetting,’ but legitimate concern,” former Obama adviser David Axelrod posted on X. The party’s strong election night results two days later, with big wins in Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia, helped soothe frayed nerves, but anxiety about Biden’s general-election prospects persists.

While the Democrats’ freak-out generated the most headlines, the poll also revealed problems for Trump. That’s because Trump’s swing-state advantage vanished when pollsters included Democrat turned Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the results. According to the poll, Trump bested Biden only in Georgia and Nevada in a hypothetical three-way matchup; Biden pulled even with Trump in the others. According to three Republicans, Trump has privately expressed concern that Kennedy Jr. could play the role of GOP spoiler. “Trump has been very apprehensive about RFK,” said a prominent Republican who speaks with Trump. A top Republican strategist told me, “If Kennedy gets on the ballots, there’s a big concern.”

Trumpworld’s worry makes sense. Kennedy Jr.’s performative machismo and anti-vax platform could understandably appeal to MAGA voters who want a Trump alternative. MAGA voters may also like Kennedy Jr.’s isolationism, which dovetails with Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. In recent weeks, Trumpworld has attacked Kennedy. Last month, Donald Trump Jr. accused Kennedy of being a Democratic Party “plant.”

“If I’m a Democratic plant, I wouldn’t know it since nobody from the Democratic Party talks to me because they believe I’m a Republican Party plant,” Kennedy texted me.

The irony is that Kennedy’s presidential ambitions were stoked by Republicans to hurt Biden. According to CBS News correspondent Robert Costa, former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon lobbied to get Kennedy into the Democratic primary to stoke chaos on the left, as others on the right cheered on his candidacy. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone left one political operative I spoke to with the impression that Stone was advising Kennedy’s campaign. Stone told me he gave advice to a big Kennedy donor but that he didn’t speak with Kennedy directly. “I told the donor Bobby needed professional management, but that’s kibitzing, not advising,” Stone said. Stone told me that he will no longer offer any advice to people in Kennedy’s orbit now that he’s challenging Trump. “I think Bobby is very impressive as a candidate, but I’m with Trump,” Stone said.

Kennedy said he’s “only met Stone once,” briefly, in a San Diego greenroom and has “never spoken to him otherwise.” He recalled only meeting Bannon once amid discussions about chairing a vaccine-safety commission under Trump, and said that, other than appearing on Bannon’s podcast, War Room, he’s “never had any other conversation with him.”

Of course, Trump’s multiple criminal trials pose a far greater threat than Kennedy’s long-shot campaign. Plus, the general election might get even more crowded, with unclear outcomes for both Democrats and Republicans. Last week, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin announced he wouldn’t be running for reelection, which fueled speculation that he might run for president on the No Labels ticket. If Manchin jumps in, he would join a field that already includes Independent Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

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