Naomi Klein: The 'Democratic consultant class' ignores RFK Jr.’s campaign at its own peril
If former President Donald Trump's poll numbers among GOP primary voters hold up, it is entirely possible that 2024 could see a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden.
Trump, so far, has nine declared competitors in 2024's Republican president primary but remains the frontrunner. Polls released in June have found Trump ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also seeking his party's nomination, by 38 percent (CBS News/YouGov), 25 percent (USA Today/Suffolk), 36 percent (I&I/TIPP) or 21 percent (Reuters/Ipsos).
The Democratic presidential primary field is much smaller, consisting of Biden, anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and new age self-help guru Marianne Williamson. The Democratic Party establishment and its allies have been rallying around Biden, dismissing RFK Jr. and Williamson's campaigns as a joke. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has endorsed Biden and promised to do anything he can to help the president get reelected.
But a CNN poll released in late May showed that 20 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters favor RFK Jr., the 69-year-old nephew of President John F. Kennedy Sr. (who was assassinated in 1963) and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy Sr. (who was assassinated in 1968 only two months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination).
In an op-ed published by The Guardian on June 14, Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein warns that the "Democratic consultant class" ignores or underestimates Kennedy at their own peril.
"When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his plan to run for president in the Democratic Party primaries this April," Klein explains, "the dominant liberal strategy towards the once-tough environmental lawyer — now spreader of all manner of dangerous, unsupported theories — seemed to be: ignore him and wait for him to go away. Don't cover, don't engage and don't debate."
The progressive author, best known for her 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," continues, "Jim Kessler, a leader of the pro-Biden think tank Third Way, called him a 'gadfly and a laughingstock'; Democratic consultant Sawyer Hackett brushed him off as 'a gnat.' Well, if recent developments in the Kennedy campaign have demonstrated anything, it's that denial is not a viable political strategy. Kennedy honed his social media skills over years to spread his anti-vaccine message, so he has simply done an end-run around traditional media and party structures."
Biden isn't the first incumbent Democratic president to be challenged by a Kennedy. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter faced an aggressive primary challenge by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), who was RFK Jr.'s uncle. Carter won the nomination but suffered a crushing defeat by Republican nominee Ronald Reagan in the general election.
Klein argues that Democratic strategists who write off RFK Jr.'s campaign as a joke said the same thing about Trump in 2016. And the Montreal-born author emphasizes that the anger RFK is tapping into is quite real.
"It's not only the combined power of a dynastic family, violent crime and choose-your-own-adventure conspiracy culture that RFK Jr. is riding, " Klein observes. "He is also tapping into a wellspring of real pain and outrage. These points may be obvious, but they bear repeating: a great many voters are hurting and rightfully angry — about powerful corporations controlling their democracy and profiting off disease and poverty, about endless wars draining national coffers and maiming their kids. About stagnating wages and soaring costs."
Klein continues, "This is the world — inflamed on every level — that the two-party duopoly has knowingly created. RFK Jr.'s campaign speaks directly to this outrage, with its central message about 'the corrupt merger between state and corporate power.'"
Naomi Klein's full op-ed for The Guardian is available at this link.
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