He certainly has a better shot at the presidency than any other third-party candidate in recent memory, but we’re inclined to believe that the current state of politics makes this a virtually impossible task.

Nonetheless, we’re pleased to see a presidential candidate recognize the state and national significance of Suffolk County in terms of presidential politics. As the largest suburban county in the nation, we’re largely unforgotten in terms of House and state races, but in terms of Albany and Washington, we seem to be left behind in terms of funding and attention in favor of bluer pastures.

The national environment is more polarized than ever. More and more people are registering with one of the two major political parties, split-ticket voting is historically low, and the fewest number of states (five) have split U.S. Senate delegations – one Senator from either party – since we began directly electing them in 1913.

So, what makes RFK think he has a chance?

To say he doesn’t have a chance is cynical. Anything is possible in the world of politics. Almost all pundits completely disregarded Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency, in 2016. Only two pundits, the Trafalgar Group and the editor of this paper (before his tenure here), predicted Trump would win with the magic number of 306 electoral votes. However, they were off by three states, but it’s much, much closer than anyone else foresaw.

Kennedy straddles a fine line of intrinsic libertarianism, mixed with classical liberalism, and fiscal conservatism. We’re inclined to agree with many of his positions stated at his Holbrook rally last week, but we’re unsure of how he would be able to implement them.

Firstly, we wholeheartedly agree that the war in Ukraine is an escalation on Biden’s part. Not only did he reference Biden’s amplification of a proxy war by advising Zelenskyy, vis-à-vis other world leaders, to tear up the negotiations with Putin, but he also invoked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s intentions to keep the war going so as to drain Russia of its resources and make them unable to play in other parts of the world. Americans on both sides of the aisle are tired of endless proxy wars that see thousands of our great Americans, many of them young with promising futures, die at the hands of ruthless oligarchs. In fact, they’re not just tired; they’re tired of being tired.

RFK spoke highly of FDR, president during World War II, in what RFK himself called the only “moral war” the U.S. has fought internationally. Back then, a war was good for the economy when our country was made up of generational farmers, private defense contractors, and small businesses. Now, in a world of big agriculture (with U.S. food production primarily owned by China and Brazil), corporate America, and the military industrial complex, wars don’t stand to have the economic impact they once did. We wish RFK would have spoken more to this, but we’ll take what we can get.

We’re also pleased to see RFK hold the line on near-tyrannical COVID-19 mandates, especially those that made people decide between an experimental drug that has adversely affected the public more than it has helped the public and keeping their jobs, pensions, and positions. However, we’re inclined to disagree with him that Trump “caved to the bureaucrats” regarding mandates. Trump held the line on some mandates until the very end, but “caved” regarding shut downs and masking. We think it was more him trying to do whatever he and his cabinet could to slow the spread of a pandemic that virtually none of our world leaders have had to deal with. In addition, Trump was between a rock and a hard place. If he adhered to some of the mandates, he caught the ire of the mostly-libertarian-minded American public and lost the election. If he did nothing, he lost the election.

RFK makes great points on spending, but failed to address the one group responsible for most of it: Congress. No doubt our past presidents have been complicit in the assured financial destruction of our country – eventually – but Congress is in the driver’s seat when it comes to crafting legislation, as our Founding Fathers intended.

If any president comes into office expecting to slash waste, fraud, and abuse, they’ll be met with the harsh reality that most members of Congress will not come to roost under those terms. Thus, another rock-and-a-hard-place scenario: spend us into oblivion and go down in history as irresponsible; spend nothing and have Congress dig in their heels and seem ineffective. This isn’t to insult our representatives here in Suffolk, but rather Congress at-large and their apparent perception of the American pocketbook as a bottomless pit.

In fact, we’d probably say that Kennedy can attract a great deal of support based on these few issues. But this isn’t 1968, or 1992, or even 2012. He does make an excellent point that the parties campaign mostly on fear, especially when the two nominees have historically-low favorability ratings, but the fear, in many ways, we believe, is valid.

We fear a country that trades its energy independence for reliance on foreign fuel and willingly hands over the keys to our cars and the burners of our gas stoves for baseless mandates that simply cannot be afforded right now. We fear a country that forgets our roots in favor of “I want it now, consequences be damned” selfishness. We fear a country that attempts to demonstrate peace through strength through military dominance rather than economic leadership. RFK invoked the phrase by FDR: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He should have gone with Theodore Roosevelt’s “walk softly and carry a big stick.”

We love the idea of a classical peace-through-strength ideology, but RFK would need monumental shifts and major swamp drainage to attain that.

In terms of the electoral vote, RFK is registering at about 10% in the national polls, which is a figure we think he’ll end up at in November. 10% for a third-party is a major blow to any other candidate running, enough to call him a spoiler, something he insists he’s not. We don’t think he’ll have trouble making ballot access in all fifty states, but campaigning in a heavily-polarized electorate is a much taller order.

Some states that have the highest rates of Independent-registered voters, or at least have the highest rates of third-party success, are Alaska, Utah, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota, New Mexico, and Colorado, to name a few. None of them, even if RFK swung them all, are enough to get him to the magic number of 270. Utilizing FiveThirtyEight’s new “swing-o-matic” program, The Messenger sees that even if RFK takes at least 5% of each demographic – gender, race, income, age, and college education – he would take 17% of the popular vote, no electoral votes, and Trump would narrowly win with 291 electoral votes.

RFK’s formula would have to come with Biden hemorrhaging among young voters, a bloc that backed him by twenty-four points in 2020. This seems the most likely to go right for RFK, as recent polls show him leading Trump by just eight points. Voters younger than 30 have a historically low turnout record, and if enthusiasm for Biden is low, the more of them stay home, the better it helps Trump, not RFK.

RFK will probably attract a fair amount of young support, as well as older voters who consider themselves “Kennedy Democrats” and remember the politics of his uncle.

It’s unclear how RFK will fare with voters on race and college-education, as most of these blocs will likely go for their already-preferred candidates. Trump will surge with non-college and white voters, while Biden will likely win college and minority voters. The big question mark is just how well Trump will fare with Latino and black voters, two demographics that are showing signs of shifting support meteorically for the former president.

We played with the “swing-o-matic” program and found that even if all demographics shifted towards RFK by twenty points, with 2020 turnout and two-party margins the same, he would take 21% of the popular vote, win Alaska, Utah, two districts in Maine, and three districts in Nebraska, while Trump would win narrowly with 285 electoral votes.

At this point, it seems Trump is the beneficiary of an RFK candidacy. RFK will certainly attract Trump supporters fed up with him and the party, while he’ll also attract classical Democrats, self-described libertarians, and those who are too ashamed to admit they regret voting for Biden.

Obviously, it’s still way too early to tell, but we think that if RFK ran on a larger platform, he’d have a realistic shot. We understand his intention to drop the Democratic nomination bid, but we also understand the claims of one his ballot access consultants, in that she said her “number one priority” is “preventing a Biden victory.” The campaign was quick to hush talks of them intentionally trying to throw the election to Trump, but the consultant said that if Trump has a “remote” chance of winning New York, it comes with RFK on the ballot.
We’re inclined to believe her, and we certainly hope she’s right.

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The Messenger Papers Editorial Board aspires to represent a fair cross section of our Suffolk County readers. We work to present a moderate view on issues facing Long Island families and businesses.