Could RFK Jr. Win the Libertarian Party Nomination or Is All This Just Gaslighting?

‘He doesn’t excite anybody who’s not just an anti-vaxxer,’ a former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Nicholas Sarwark, tells the Sun.

Rebecca Noble/Getty Images
Supporters listen to a speech from independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during his campaign rally at Legends Event Center on December 20, 2023 at Phoenix, Arizona. Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Facing an uphill battle to get ballot access in all 50 states for an independent run, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he is “looking at” running on the Libertarian line. Does he have a shot at winning the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination or is this a play for press attention by both the Kennedy campaign and Libertarian Party leadership to stay relevant?

This could be a big year for third parties. Mr. Kennedy is polling on average at 19 percent in a three-way race with President Trump and President Biden. A majority of Americans don’t want another Biden-Trump matchup. Democrats and Republicans are worried about Mr. Kennedy, a potential No Labels ticket, and even Cornel West or Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, siphoning enough votes from their candidate to “spoil” the race.

Mr. Kennedy told News Nation that the Trump campaign reached out to him about serving as vice president — a sign of real concern about his third-party bid — but he declined. “I don’t think that my marriage would survive it,” Mr. Kennedy quipped at a red carpet event this week. Mr. Trump calls this “fake news.”

“Bill Clinton was elected because Ross Perot took enough away from George Bush,” a Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, tells the Sun. “Kennedy will probably have an impact on both Trump and Biden. The question is who will he hurt more?”

If Mr. Kennedy is truly in this race to win it, as he says he is, having his name on the ballot is a basic requirement. Yet since leaving the Democratic Party in October and declaring an independent run, Mr. Kennedy has only secured ballot access in one state, Utah. Ballot access laws vary by state but usually require a certain number of signatures and a filing fee. Some state requirements are more onerous than others. Utah is one of the easiest.

“That’s something that we’re looking at,” Mr. Kennedy told CNN’s Michael Smerconish over the weekend about a Libertarian Party run. “We have a very good relationship with the Libertarian Party.”

The Libertarian Party had ballot access in all 50 states in 2016 and 2020, though it’s uncertain whether they will achieve that this year. The Libertarian National Committee’s chairwoman, Angela McArdle, tells the Sun the “worst case scenario would be 48 states.”

Mr. Kennedy is slated to speak at the Libertarian Party of California’s state convention in February. He is also in talks with the New York affiliate. The Libertarian Party chooses its presidential candidate by a vote of about 1,000 delegates at its national convention in Washington DC in May. There is no clear frontrunner so far among the handful of candidates running for the nomination. Mr. Kennedy very well could throw himself into the race.

Many Libertarian Party delegates, though, say there is no way Mr. Kennedy could win the nomination at the party’s convention. While Ms. McArdle tells the Sun she appreciates how Mr. Kennedy “took a strong stance against vaccine mandates and the way he stood for medical freedom,” others in the party are critical of his stances on Israel, energy policy, gun rights, and the economy. Despite the party being known for its infighting — a paleo faction of the party, the Mises Caucus, took over in 2022 — many insiders of different factions say they can agree that Mr. Kennedy is not libertarian enough.

“At convention, there’s going to be too many red flags, and he doesn’t excite anybody who’s not just an anti-vaxxer,” a former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Nicholas Sarwark, tells the Sun.

Mr. Kennedy is “delusional. He’s bad on foreign policy. He’s bad on the federal reserve. He’s bad on minimum wage. He’s bad on the environment,” a Libertarian Party of New Hampshire delegate, Jeremy Kauffman, tells the Sun. “There’s just no support for him within the actual Libertarian Party nomination process.”

Yet Ms. McArdle says there are “tradeoffs” to be measured, and that if Mr. Kennedy were on the Libertarian ticket, he could get a large enough percent of the vote to guarantee the party ballot access the next election cycle. His candidacy would also help the party with fundraising.

The chairman of the Libertarian Party of California, Adrian Malagon, posted to X Tuesday a list of news outlets who’d contacted him about Mr. Kennedy speaking at his state convention. “All curious about the LP, our process, our candidates, etc. It’s almost like I know what I’m doing,” he wrote.

Critics of current Libertarian Party leadership say courting Mr. Kennedy is a sign of the party’s disarray. “The Libertarian Party has been in decline over the past year and a half. The membership is way down. Donors are way down,” the chairman of the Libertarian Party’s Classical Liberal Caucus, Jonathan Casey, tells the Sun. “I think that leadership is pushing this as kind of a way to be relevant at any cost.”

Democrats and Republicans may be worried about a Kennedy run on the Libertarian line — just as they are trying to discourage a No Labels ticket — but the possibility of him winning the Libertarian nomination is slim at best. “I would put it that maybe he’s got like a 20 percent shot at best, a very outside shot,” Mr. Sarwark says.

Mr. Sheinkopf says Mr. Kennedy’s flirtation with the Libertarian Party is probably no more than that. “It is likely to be more of a media play to create attention around RFK,” Mr. Sheinkopf says. Libertarians, he adds, “are ideologues. They always lose but they’re prepared to lose in the battle for ideology, therefore they’re not likely to give that line away just because.”

“No comment,” a Kennedy campaign spokesman replied to the Sun.

The New York Sun

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