Trump seeks to give boost to RFK Jr.

Former President Trump and his allies are actively trying to give Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign a boost.

While Trump and his associates call Kennedy a “leftist,” they are betting the independent candidate could help the former president win in a close election where many voters are agnostic about the two other choices.

It’s a strategy that has been widely noticed by figures in both parties, and one Republicans think could help the former president in a tight race.

“Trump is smart to prop him up,” said Shermichael Singleton, a Republican strategist who has worked on three presidential campaigns.

“He knows that Kennedy pulls more from Biden, and he knows if he can get on the ballot, he will absolutely have an impact.”

In a post on Truth Social late last month, Trump acknowledged that Kennedy’s candidacy is useful to him.

“He is Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, not mine. I love that he is running!” Trump said.

Political observers say they are expecting low voter turnout this November with two largely unpopular nominees.

Some voters are expected to consider alternatives to the GOP and Democratic nominees, including Kennedy, who is polling ahead of other third-party candidates so far.

Kennedy’s poll figures have dropped in aggregate polling by Decision Desk HQ and The Hill. He stood at 8.1 percent support on April 11 compared to 42.1 percent for Trump and 40.6 percent for Biden.

But his presence in the race appears to help Trump. Decision Desk HQ and The Hill aggregate polling without Kennedy in the race on April 11 had Trump with 44.8 percent support and Biden with 44.2 percent, a smaller margin for Trump than with Kennedy in the poll.

“Ultimately it’s helpful to us,” one Republican strategist said.

Kennedy’s presence could be a big deal in swing states if he is on the ballot in competitive races in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona, where he has not yet qualified to be on the ballot.

While Biden has so far failed to go after Kennedy head-on, his top backers at the Democratic National Committee have taken on that effort, working to put out opposition research and dedicating a communications and legal team around Kennedy as a would-be spoiler. 

“The loud and palpable fear that Democrats have on this tells us this could be successful for Trump,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye, who does not support the former president. “He knows it, and it also fits with his strategy on messing with people. It’s a new way for him to do it.”

In his Truth Social post, Trump egged on Kennedy supporters, saying that while the 70-year-old independent is “great for MAGA … the communists will make it very hard for him to get on the Ballot.”

In a statement to The Hill, the Trump campaign doubled down on support for getting Kennedy to qualify for many states.

“While Joe Biden and his allies claim to defend democracy, they are using financial and legal resources to prevent candidates’ access to the ballot,” said Brian Hughes, a Trump campaign adviser, echoing an argument Kennedy’s supporters also make.

“President Trump believes any candidate who qualifies for the ballot should be allowed to make their case to America’s voters,” he said. 

“Given the Trump record of keeping household costs affordable, supporting law enforcement who keep our communities safe, and standing up to adversaries to keep our world at peace, we are confident we can win support of the voters no matter who is on the ballot.” 

At the same time, Hughes dubbed Kennedy “a leftist and liberal with a history of supporting an extreme environmental agenda that rivals Joe Biden for its ability to kill American jobs and leave the nation less safe and less prosperous.” 

Those in Kennedy’s orbit is aware of the perception that they’re being elevated by Trump. 

They’ve seen Democrats try to make direct links to his candidacy and Trump’s own electoral agenda.

Democratic operatives often point to one of the most controversial figures in Trump World, Steve Bannon, as someone who’s praised Kennedy and has encouraged him to seek the White House.

Kennedy himself has expressed positive sentiments toward the former president and presumptive GOP nominee throughout the cycle. Democrats say any kind words for Trump are an appeal to his voters, further bolstering their “spoiler” argument.

That case was made even more clear this week, when a New York-based consultant hired by Kennedy’s campaign to tackle the ballot access problem was videotaped saying Biden is a “mutual enemy” among Kennedy and Trump supporters. Kennedy’s campaign in response distanced itself from Rita Palma after her comments circled on social media and were used by Democrats looking for proof that the third-party bid is also elevating Trump.

Democrats are not planning on slowing down with the Trump comparisons. Some feel emboldened now that No Labels, the group trying to recruit a “unity” ticket, said declaratively that it’s not wading into the contest.

“With No Labels out of the race, Kennedy and his controversial positions are about to get a lot more attention,” said Doug Gordon, a Democratic strategist. “The spotlight on him is going to be bright. … And it will not be kind to him.”

Reached for comment Thursday, Kennedy’s campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said: “What Trump is really worried about is that Kennedy will split the anti-establishment vote with him and throw the election to the Democrats.”

“RFK Jr. is a serious threat to Donald Trump, who therefore paints him as a leftist,” she added in a statement to The Hill. “For the same reason, Democrats paint him as a right-winger or secret MAGA sympathizer.”

“In reality he is neither,” Spear insisted. “He is a genuine independent who is attracting interest from disaffected Trump donors as well as disaffected Biden donors.”

Trump and Kennedy have both been able to pull money from within their own circles to fund their campaigns.

While Kennedy’s campaign coffers don’t compare to the Trump or Biden’s fundraising efforts, his running mate is Nicole Shanahan, who was once married to a Google founder and can contribute a lot of money to their push.

“Trump is one of the oligarchs who came down from the tower and actually ran himself. He can pay for most of his campaign,” a source familiar with Kennedy’s campaign operations said. “Having his own money and not having to worry about kissing donors’ asses freed him up to say things and take a posture that was very appealing to people.”

“I think Shanahan and Bobby are going to be able to do that now in a different way, a more diplomatic way,” the source added.

Trump’s strategy to amplify Kennedy is not entirely new.

In 2020, when nearly two dozen candidates were competing for the Democratic nomination, Trump’s allies deployed a similar tactic to boost Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the primary race tightened between him and Biden.

While Trump and some in his circle publicly dubbed Sanders a “socialist,” they also occasionally praised him. The thinking at the time was that if Sanders became the nominee, Trump could more easily beat him than Biden. Now, they’re using Kennedy as another way to pull Biden down.

Some Republicans say Trump would be better off taking his focus off Kennedy and just keeping it on Biden.

GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who worked as a senior aide on Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) 2012 presidential campaign, said Trump focusing on Kennedy “distracts from his core message, which is really drawing a contrast with Biden.”

“These types of messages are never best handled by the candidate,” he added.

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