Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Woos West Coast Libertarians as He Mulls Seeking the Party’s Nomination

Mr. Kennedy is polling on average at 15 percent — the highest for any independent candidate since Ross Perot in 1992, and a majority of Americans say they don’t want another Biden-Trump matchup.

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

Libertarians usually balk at disarming, but they submitted to security checks for independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the weekend’s Libertarian Party of California convention at Costa Mesa. A scion to the Kennedy dynasty, whose father and uncle were both assassinated, Mr. Kennedy wasn’t the only non-Libertarian, third-party candidate in attendance — but he was the only one who brought metal detectors and might seek the party’s nomination.

Mr. Kennedy and an independent progressive candidate, Cornel West, joined a handful of Libertarian presidential candidates on stage for separate candidate forums, where they spoke about dismantling America’s partisan duopoly and offering an alternative to disheartened American voters. The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, spoke virtually. Will 2024 be the year of third-party candidates?

Mr. Kennedy is polling on average at 15 percent, according to Real Clear Politics — the highest for any independent candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. A majority of Americans say they don’t want another Biden-Trump matchup. In Michigan’s Democratic primary Tuesday, more than 100,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” to protest Mr. Biden’s support for Israel.

No Labels says it will decide about running a third-party “unity ticket” after Super Tuesday next week. Nikki Haley refuses to drop out of the Republican presidential primary, citing the “40 percent” of independents and Republicans who won’t vote for President Trump. Members of No Labels keep floating her name, though she says she’s not interested.

Mr. West and Dr. Stein are not vying for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, but Mr. Kennedy isn’t ruling it out. Since he left the Democratic Party to run as an independent in October, Mr. Kennedy’s campaign has achieved ballot access in only three states.

They announced this week they have gathered enough signatures for access in two additional states, Arizona and Georgia. The Libertarian Party had ballot access in 50 states in 2020, and its chairwoman, Angela McArdle, tells the Sun the “worst case scenario would be 48 states” this year.

Mr. Kennedy, though, dismissed speculation over the weekend that his flirtation with the Libertarian Party is over ballot access. He said he has an “army” of dedicated campaign volunteers working on it. In about 20 states, Mr. Kennedy cannot submit for ballot access before naming his vice-presidential running mate.

“I’m not worried about ballot access. We’re going to have ballot access in every state,” Mr. Kennedy said at a forum with Libertarian presidential candidates, Michael Rectenwald and Mike ter Maat.

Mr. Kennedy has courted libertarian voters since he first entered the race as Democrat, attending Freedom Fest and Porc Fest and talking about medical freedom, government agency capture, free speech, and freeing Julian Assange.

Over the weekend, he also didn’t shy away from issues on which he disagrees with the party. He spoke about his environmental work and debated stewardship of “the commons,” like rivers, with Mr. Rectenwald, who advocated for privatization of natural resources.

Before the California convention, the Libertarian National Committee’s chairwoman, Angela McArdle, told the Sun the California convention would be a good barometer for how Mr. Kennedy might be received by the national party were he to vie for the party’s nomination at its convention in Washington DC in May. There, the party’s roughly 1,000 delegates will vote on the party’s nominee, who must earn a majority of delegate votes. This often entails multiple rounds of voting.

“Generally how people perform in California is a strong indication of how they perform nationally,” Ms. McArdle said. “If our members warm up to him, it will happen there.”

Mr. Kennedy did not perform well in a straw poll conducted at the convention over the weekend. He received only one vote from the 95 delegates in attendance. The winning candidate, Lars Mapstead, got 25 votes, but there was no runaway favorite.  

The chairman of the Libertarian Party of California, Adrian Malagon, who invited Mr. Kennedy, tells the Sun this poll is not an accurate assessment of how Mr. Kennedy was received at the convention. He notes that the poll was only supposed to be for declared Libertarian candidates and that there were other non-declared candidates, such as former congressman Justin Amash, who got only one vote as well.

“Mr. Kennedy was received very well by the convention attendees,” Mr. Malagon says, calling the convention a “resounding success,” with record attendance and fundraising. Mr. Kennedy is a big draw compared to the other Libertarian candidates, who have little name recognition outside party circles.

“I think it was really great for people to see where he stands on libertarian principles and aligns with us and other places where he seems to deviate,” Mr. Malagon says. “I got a lot of positive feedback.”

Some Libertarians, though, have chafed at the prospect the party would nominate a candidate who has advocated for gun restrictions, environmental regulations, and a higher minimum wage. A paleo faction of the party, the Mises Caucus, won control of the Libertarian National Committee at their convention in 2022, in large part as a rebuke of running “watered-down” candidates and messaging.

“The Mises Caucus takeover of the Libertarian Party has been a repudiation of this premise,” a founder of the Mises Caucus, Michael Heise, told the Sun in October, “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.”

The Kennedy campaign did not respond to the Sun’s request for comment on when it will announce Mr. Kennedy’s running mate. Speculation is that he could choose the former congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, who shares many of his positions and left the Democratic Party as well. Mr. Trump has also named her to his vice-presidential shortlist. Ms. Gabbard won second place behind a first-place tie between Vivek Ramaswamy and Governor Noem, in a CPAC vice-presidential straw poll.  

“Tulsi Gabbard has a lot of support in libertarian circles,” Mr. Malagon says. “I don’t know how much it would move the needle, if at all, but that would be very interesting to say the least.”

The New York Sun

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