RFK Jr. to Biden: I'm Not The Spoiler, You're The Spoiler

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speak at a press conference in Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 1.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speak at a press conference in Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 1. KENA BETANCUR/Getty Images

BROOKLYN – Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. summoned reporters to downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday for what his campaign billed as a “major announcement.”

Was it an endorsement? A big policy roll-out? Or maybe just news about ballot access in the Empire State?

No, none of those. Instead, Kennedy unveiled an elaborate bid to troll President Joe Biden, who leads Kennedy by about 30 percentage points in nationwide polling, into dropping out of the race.

Prominent Democrats have forcefully made the case that Kennedy is destined to be a “spoiler,” a candidate mathematically incapable of winning whose real impact is to take away support from legitimate contenders. So Kennedy and his campaign manager (and daughter-in-law) Amaryllis Fox Kennedy challenged Biden to a “no spoiler” pledge.

The pledge would have Biden and Kennedy jointly conduct a nationwide poll of 30,000 people in all 50 states this coming October. The polls would look at a hypothetical head-to-head matchup between Kennedy and former President Donald Trump, as well as Biden versus Trump. Whoever does better in that head-to-head poll, with no option of a third candidate offered to respondents, would promise to drop out of the race.

Kennedy’s team is confident that he would win such a gambit because the campaign’s internal internal polling of over 26,000 voters in all 50 states,  conducted by John Zogby Strategies, shows Trump easily beating Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, but Trump losing to Kennedy by a narrow margin.

“So the question is: Will President Biden heed the dire pleas of the [Democratic National Committee] and — as the spoiler responsible for having a Trump re-election — bow out and let Bobby beat Trump to save democracy?” Fox Kennedy asked. “Or will he hand the country back over to Donald Trump out of stubbornness?”

While the Democratic National Committee has repeatedly called Kennedy a “spoiler” and a stalking horse for Trump supporters, it has not actually called for him to drop out.

Kennedy further said Wednesday that he was challenging Biden to make the pledge, because his internal polling shows Trump in a strong position to win and that Trump himself is thus unlikely to be a spoiler.

But, Kennedy clarified, “I’m happy to make this pledge with President Trump.”

“What we all want in this election is for Americans not to feel that they have to vote out of fear … and that is only going to happen if there’s a two-way race between me and President Trump or me and President Biden,” he added.

The premise behind Kennedy’s bargain ― which was announced via a Powerpoint presentation of different polling scenarios ― is that many public polls are inadequate for measuring his support because they use relatively small sample sizes and do not typically measure head-to-head matches between Kennedy and either Trump or Biden.

There is indeed little, if any, public polling of a hypothetical two-candidate race with Kennedy as one of the two contenders. One of the public polls that met Kennedy’s criteria was one conducted by entertainment gossip site TMZ, which the campaign featured in the slide alongside its internal poll.

But there is a dearth of two-way race polling with Kennedy because neither Biden nor Trump ― each of whom has a massive war chest and grassroots support ― have shown any signs that they plan to drop out. And the courts have so far not been receptive to states’ efforts to kick Trump off the ballot because of the various criminal cases against him at the state and federal level.

Nationwide, as of Wednesday, Trump leads Biden 41.6% to 40.8% in FiveThirtyEight’s average of public polling. Kennedy has 10.3% support.

Kennedy’s unusual mix of anti-establishment rhetoric, vaccine skepticism, environmental activism and opposition to U.S. funding of Ukraine has made him appealing to an ideologically varied group of disaffected voters.

It is still not entirely clear whether he stands to pull more votes from Biden or from Trump, but both parties are starting to treat him as a threat.

Democrats point out that one of the largest donors to Kennedy’s super PAC is Republican billionaire Tim Mellon — also a major donor to Trump.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr is a spoiler — recruited by the MAGA GOP and propped up by Trump’s largest donor,” said Matt Corridoni, a Democratic National Committee spokesperson. “His ‘Veep’-like performance today does nothing to dispel that notion. It only reinforces how deeply unserious his campaign is.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have taken to highlighting Kennedy’s liberal policy positions and rhetoric from years ago, before his skepticism of the COVID-19 pandemic vaccine and public-health measures made him a folk hero on the right.

The pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again, Inc., on Wednesday flagged a 2005 speech that Kennedy gave in which he said, “Red-state people are more likely to murder you.”

“Why are some in ‘conservative’ media giving this left-wing lunatic a free pass?” Donald Trump Jr. said in a post on X sharing the video. “Biden and RFK Jr are competing for who hates us more. Insane!!!”