With headlines like, “His name is Kennedy, His campaign is pure Trump” and “R.F.K and DeSantis Embolden Anti-Vaccine Movement” from the likes of the Washington Post and Time magazine respectively, it is clear what the playbook to discredit Kennedy and other alt-left challengers of President Biden will be: label and discredit.
This is a familiar strategy on the left because it was utilized to its fullest extent two presidential election cycles ago, when then-candidate Trump entered the political arena to an avalanche of name calling and vitriol from the establishment political class on both sides.
Much like Trump, Kennedy is already being appended with an array of loaded political labels, the sole purpose of which are to make it crystal clear to the political elite that Kennedy is, ‘not one of us.’
The political dynasty and environmental lawyer is rarely referred to as anything other than an “anti-vaccine activist”, despite also being vocally anti-war and highly critical of crony corporatism and environmental neglect.
When Kennedy announced his run for office, he did not mention vaccines, but has been clear in interviews that if asked, he’ll share his views. He has also stated that vaccines are not the central focus of his campaign, but the establishment is attempting to ‘other’ Kennedy on the vaccine issue to dissuade voters who might agree with him on other issues.
Eight years ago, when Trump announced his run for President of the United States under the Republican Party banner, he was similarly ‘othered’ and attacked from both sides of the aisle and from the mainstream media. Trump was labeled ‘a populist, ‘a racist’, ‘just a TV celebrity’, and ‘not a real Republican’ despite espousing a set of political principles that held at least some appeal to a broad swathe of the American people as evidenced by his success in the Republican primaries and later in the general election.
The American public simply did not care which label the mainstream pinned onto Trump, largely because they agreed with his America First philosophy, as upsetting as that may still be to some inside the beltway who never understood Trump’s appeal.
The way the mainstream is treating Kennedy now is a near-replica of the way they treated Trump. Rather than addressing the core of the issue: that Americans are mistrustful of big government corporatism and nation-building, particularly in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic and Ukraine war, the corporate-left are labeling Kennedy an ‘other’ and hoping that is enough to discredit him.
The reason this is the strategy, is that much like with Hillary Clinton in 2016, the political establishment are aware that any argument for their candidate falls flat. The only alternative is to label and discredit the opponent. Biden may not be as ill-liked as an individual as Clinton was, but Americans are largely in agreement that he is unfit to continue serving as president.
Biden’s approval rating now hovers in the low 40’s, a place occupied by former presidents who lost their reelection bids, and he has lost support by double-digits with women, young people, and independents. Unsurprisingly, Kennedy does well in polls with all these groups.
Around 70% of Democrats say they want someone other than Joe Biden to become the party nominee in 2024, and these numbers are even higher with young people and independents.
Not only are Biden’s numbers down across the board, but Americans are increasingly seeking a president who will keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and reject a neoconservative nation-building agenda abroad.
Public support for continuing to supply Ukraine with weapons dropped 12 percentage points from 60% in May 2022 to under half (48%) in March 2023, and just 37% of Americans now believe the U.S. should continue sending funds to Ukraine, down from a lukewarm 44% in May 2022. What is more, almost three-quarters of Americans say the U.S. should have either a minor role (49%) or no role at all (24%) in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, while just 26% say the U.S. should have a major role.
In the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Americans had a particularly bleak view of the 20-year war, with a full 77% of Americans saying the U.S. and other Western allies did not win the war, and just 6% saying the U.S. won.
Americans are war-weary, and want to turn their attention back to domestic issues – namely healthcare, the economy, and restoring personal and economic freedoms that were suspended during the covid-19 pandemic.
Kennedy’s rise in popularity is no surprise, considering the vast majority of Democrats want to see someone other than Joe Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket next election, and considering most Americans are weary of U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts and the unholy alliance between political and corporate power.
Americans care more about electing a president and administration capable of shepherding the country back to economic prosperity, ejecting the United States from our engagement in foreign disputes, and restoring the freedoms that were largely suspended during the covid-19 pandemic than they do about political labels. Call it populism, but most Americans don’t care.
Rather than address Kennedy on the issues, the Democratic Party has stated there will be no primary debates between Biden and Kennedy or other challengers, and are attempting to discredit alternative candidates by ‘othering’ them.
There is a very good chance the establishment will fail to quell the public uprising against Biden if they continue use the same ‘label and discredit’ playbook they used against Trump in 2015. ‘He’s just an inexperienced celebrity’, ‘he’s not a real Republican’, and ‘he’s a populist’ – all fell utterly flat when flung against Trump, because frankly, no one cared.
Manzanita Miller is an associate analyst at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.