As RFK Jr. Readies an Announcement Today, Speculation Is Simmering Over Whether He Could Find a Path Forward Via the Libertarian Party

‘I’m not going to do anything to block him if he tries to run,’ Libertarian Party chairwoman Angela McArdle tells the Sun.

Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on April 19, 2023 at Boston, Massachusetts. Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announces Monday that he is leaving the Democratic Party to run as an independent, one of the biggest challenges his campaign will face is getting ballot access in all 50 states. So will Mr. Kennedy seek out the nomination of a third party like the Libertarians?

Speculation about this has abounded since the New York Times reported that Mr. Kennedy met in July with Libertarian Party chairwoman Angela McArdle. Both were in Memphis attending the libertarian ideas festival, Freedom Fest.

Ms. McArdle tells the Sun that Mr. Kennedy’s campaign reached out to her for the meeting because “they were interested in connecting him with the people who are leading the Libertarian Party in the larger movement.”

“He did say at the time that he was running as a Democrat,” Ms. McArdle says. “He was very clear about that.”

Yet Mr. Kennedy has courted the libertarian vote since he jumped in the race last April. He defied in June a warning from the New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman, Raymond Buckley, by speaking at PorcFest, the Free State Project’s camping and ideas festival in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He’s gone on Reason TV and made the rounds of libertarian podcasts, all while railing that “both parties have lost their way.”

An environmental lawyer, vaccine skeptic, and scion of America’s famed Democratic dynasty, Mr. Kennedy is building a coalition of support among anti-interventionist Republicans, libertarians, Silicon Valley tech bros, “health freedom” advocates, and Democrats nostalgic for the Kennedy brand and disillusioned with the direction of the party and its current geriatric leader.

When a majority of Americans don’t want another Trump-Biden matchup, this post-party politics model appears to be gaining traction. It’s also fueling concern among Democrats and, less so, Republicans about other third-party runs by, say, Cornel West and, potentially, a No Labels candidate.

Mr. Kennedy is adept at appealing to libertarian crowds, promising to pardon Julian Assange and saying he won’t take people’s guns away. His platform, though, is not libertarian. He may be anti-interventionist and anti-war, advocating for “unwinding empire” and for withdrawing “our troops and nuclear-capable missiles from Russia’s borders.” He might be for pushback against big tech censorship and vaccine mandates in a way that aligns with the Libertarian Party.

Mr. Kennedy’s economic and environmental policies, though, do not. Mr. Kennedy supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and recently proposed locking home mortgage rates at three percent with tax-free bonds to “make home ownership affordable” — both policies the Libertarian Party rejects.

Mr. Kennedy has also railed against free trade, which is a foundational principle of libertarianism. He supports a ban on fracking and has equivocated on nuclear energy, while the Libertarian Party’s platform says its members “oppose all government control of energy pricing, allocation, and production.”

Mr. Kennedy says he is “not going to take people’s guns away,” but he’s also said he would support a bipartisan assault weapons ban. The latter statement riled many Libertarians.

“I think he’d be a great candidate if he could completely 180 his stance on personal defense weapons, monetary policy, and climate extremism,” a Libertarian Party 2024 presidential candidate and former vice-chairman of the party, Joshua Smith, tells the Sun.  

“The Libertarian Party has a platform that is just diametrically opposed to a lot of his positions, say, on fracking, on guns,” another Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Chase Oliver, whose 2022 run for Senate from Georgia forced the runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, tells the Sun. “But I’m happy he’s exposing how corrupt the Democratic Party is.”

A third Libertarian Party presidential candidate, author, and former NYU professor, Michael Rectenwald, tells the Sun that “there are many overlaps” between the Libertarian Party’s positions and Mr. Kennedy’s, but he says Mr. Kennedy is “wrong on the fundamental, principle issues.”

“Kennedy has this white knight complex, this idea that if we just put the right person in at the top we can address all our problems,” Mr. Rectenwald says. “We believe that what we need to do is wrest power from the federal government and instead invest it in the people at the local level.”

Mr. Kennedy has not confirmed that he is leaving the Democratic Party or what his “major announcement” on Monday will be. Mediaite, though, reported word from a campaign insider that Mr. Kennedy will announce an independent run at the event.

If Mr. Kennedy’s positions are so “diametrically opposed” to libertarianism and reports suggest he will run as an independent, why is anyone even discussing a potential Libertarian Party run? One answer is that obtaining ballot access is so onerous for independent and third-party candidates that Mr. Kennedy may seek to run on an established third-party line, maybe even months from now. 

Another is that there is a strain in the Libertarian Party for whom vaccine skepticism, fighting the “Covid regime,” and being anti-war are the preeminent issues. For some in this faction, Mr. Kennedy represents an opportunity to put the Libertarian Party on the map by getting more than the party’s record 3.3 percent of the vote that, with Gary Johnson, it garnered in 2016.

“I said that I really appreciated the way he took a strong stance against vaccine mandates and the way he stood for medical freedom,” Ms. McArdle says of her meeting with Mr. Kennedy. “I’m not going to do anything to block him if he tries to run. I think the shot of publicity that has given us is a good thing.”

Every state has different third-party ballot access rules, with different filing deadlines, fees, and number of signatures required. Obtaining enough signatures in large states like New York and California requires a serious ground game. If Mr. Kennedy runs as an independent, he will be starting the whole ballot access process from scratch.

The percentage of the vote required to retain ballot access for third parties also varies by state. New York recently changed its law to require that parties get at least two percent or 130,000 votes to maintain ballot access every two years. In Texas, the requirement is five percent of the vote.

After the Libertarian Party’s 2020 presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson earned only one percent of the vote, the party lost its ballot access for the next cycle in 20 states. Ms. McArdle says the party is working to get access in those states for 2024, saying the party’s “worst case scenario would be 48 states.”

If Mr. Kennedy runs as a Libertarian and gets more than five percent of the vote, which polling suggests he could, a strong showing would help the Libertarian Party retain ballot access for 2028, and even qualify it for minor party status that would make campaigns eligible for partial public funding.

A recent Zogby poll, commissioned by a PAC supporting Mr. Kennedy, shows him getting 19 percent in a three-way match up with presidents Trump and Biden. “He would definitely help us get ballot access and make the news,” Ms. McArdle says. “There’s upsides and downsides.”

If the Kennedy campaign runs into trouble trying to get ballot access as an independent, Mr. Kennedy could throw his name in the Libertarian Party’s nominating contest in May at its convention in Washington, D.C. Unlike the Democrats or Republicans, Libertarians choose their candidate at a convention by vote of about 1,000 delegates.

The chairman of the Mises Caucus, Michael Heise, who orchestrated a successful paleo-libertarian leadership takeover of the Libertarian National Committee in 2022, tells the Sun the convention scenario is unlikely.

“The Mises Caucus takeover of the Libertarian Party has been a repudiation of this premise,” he says, “that if we just run a watered-down candidate or if we run a non-libertarian with enough name recognition, it’ll solve all the problems of the party.”

Many of the Libertarian candidates insist that running for president on the Libertarian line is not about winning higher office, it’s essentially a “50 state media tour” to spread libertarian ideas. Mr. Kennedy’s campaign, by contrast, says it sees a path to victory.” 

It just seems increasingly likely that path is not through the Democratic Party. It’s probably not through the Libertarian Party either. Mr. Kennedy’s campaign manager, Dennis Kucinich, responded to the Sun’s inquiries with two words, “No comment.”

The New York Sun

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