Democrats Conflicted About How Joe Biden Should Approach Populist RFK Jr.

Joe Biden and RFK Jr.
Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Democrats are strategically conflicted about how President Joe Biden’s campaign should approach Robert F. Kennedy Jr., his closest competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination.

While some are of the mind that it is best for the president to ignore Kennedy’s candidacy, others believe that Biden should look to clear Kennedy out of the way early, as the Hill’s Niall Stanage wrote in his column.

If he does not address the longshot, the fear among that faction is that the populist Democrat could garner further steam and, at the least, weaken Biden heading into the general election.

Democrat Strategist Bill Carrick told the Hill he saw no advantage in engaging with Kennedy.

“I think they should ignore him. I just don’t think there’s any point in [engaging] in it. He’s not the least bit of a threat to President Biden,” adding that former President Donald Trump is the paramount concern to hardline Democrat voters, who see Biden as the only obstacle between him and the presidency.

Conversely, Hank Sheinkopf, a leftist operative, told the outlet Biden’s campaign should begin to attack Kennedy but not in a public way where a blow could inadvertently rally support around his rival.

CNN contributor Bakari Sellers, who called Indian-American Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley a “white governor from the deep south” earlier this month, shared a similar sentiment, telling the outlet, “You can’t let cancers metastasize.”

He added:

[RFK Jr.] is probably the best example of an apple falling from the tree and rolling into a whole other orchard — parroting Putin talking points and so on. He is not John, he is not Robert, and he is more associated with the likes of [podcaster] Joe Rogan and Elon Musk than he is with James Clyburn or Hakeem Jeffries.

Kennedy earned 15 percent of support among Democrat primary voters in the latest Harvard-Harris poll released Friday, while 62 percent said they would back Biden if the primary were today. Another four percent support self-help guru Marianne Williamson. Eight percent back someone else, and twelve percent are undecided.

Although a 47-point disadvantage is an uphill and unlikely climb for Kennedy, the margin is nearly identical to the gap between Trump and his chief rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), in the Republican primary field. That same poll found Trump at 59 percent support and DeSantis at 14 percent support and that they both beat Biden in hypothetical general election match-ups.

An Economist/YouGov poll published last week showed Biden is already in a weak spot with primary voters, as a plurality of Democrats think their party can put forth a stronger candidate than him. Conversely, just under one in three believe he is the strongest possible candidate.

While it remains to be seen if Biden will start punching down at Kennedy, Stanage noted that if the latter creeps up to between 25-30 percent of support in the polls, questions surrounding Biden’s viability will amplify. If such a point arises, Kennedy will be very hard to ignore.

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