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Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ken Buck, and Political Disruption
A look at RFK Jr.'s spoiling capabilities, and Ken Buck telling the unvarnished truth.
On the heels of a family health situation and a long planned trip with my wife, I’m finally easing back into the wacky world of U.S. politics. I could spend time on the situation in the Middle East or the country’s regularly scheduled House Speaker chaos, but I’ve instead decided to weigh in on a couple of individuals who’ve stood out in recent months as political disruptors.
I’ll begin with a question…
Which Candidate’s Parade Will RFK Jr. Rain Harder On?
A couple weeks ago on the No BS Zone, Bernie and I had a disagreement on which major-party’s presidential nominee would be the most adversely affected by a Robert F. Kennedy Jr. independent run. I acknowledged that Bernie may turn out to be right in his belief that Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat with an inconic last name, would steal away more votes from the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, than he would Donald Trump. I also believed there was compelling evidence suggesting the opposite conclusion.
I noted how Kennedy has become increasingly popular with the modern right, due in large part to his conspiratorial views, and his now-fashionable anti-vaccine, anti-corporation, and anti-institution positions. Kennedy is also an election denier (which checks another box with many of today’s righties), and he’s found a cheerleader in uber-popular pod-caster, Joe Rogan. Additionally, Kennedy has been treated like a rock-star by various right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, because he’s been speaking out strongly against President Biden. He even tried to unseat Biden in the Democratic primary, an effort that earned him a speaking invitation from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Polls from a couple of weeks ago lent credence to my argument, revealing that Kennedy was slightly more popular with Trump-leaners than he was Biden-leaners.
I’m guessing that Fox News host (and high-ranking Trump sycophant) Sean Hannity saw those same polls, because just a day after Kennedy ended his run for the Democratic nomination and announced his independent candidacy, Hannity greeted him back onto his show… this time for a surprise-attack. Hannity cast Kennedy as a far-left extremist, and presented a long list (apparently provided by the Trump campaign) of hard-left and downright looney positions Kennedy has taken over the years.
Of course, none of this was news to Hannity. He’s known Kennedy for a very long time, and was well aware of his hard-left views. But he had pretended otherwise, until that very moment, because Kennedy had been politically useful as a Biden opponent.
As a subscriber to this website wrote last week, “Funny to watch such a sharp reversal now that Kennedy, as an independent candidate, poses a threat to Trump and not just Biden.”
After seeing the latest poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, I’m expecting other media-conservatives to follow Hannity’s lead. The poll shows Biden leading Trump nationally by just three points head-to-head, but Biden beating Trump by seven points in a three-way race with Kennedy (Biden 44%, Trump 37%, Kennedy 16%).
Of course, as always, polls are just a snapshot in time, and national polling doesn’t take into account the electoral college. We also don’t know for sure if Biden and Trump will be the nominees.
Still, I’m growing increasingly confident in the view that RFK Jr. is more of a political problem for Trump than he is Biden. And amusingly, the right-wing media, and their disingenuous lionizing of Kennedy, is in large part to blame.
The Return of Ken Buck?
Once upon a time, when I was much more invested in the Republican Party than I am now, I had a good deal of admiration for Ken Buck. He was my county’s District Attorney, and I supported him in multiple runs for the U.S. Congress. I thought he was a strong, independent-thinking candidate with a solid conservative platform. Heck, I even helped organize a GOP fundraiser for the guy, and was honored when he called me at home one night, out of the blue, to discuss a piece I’d written for this website. When he became my congressman in 2014, and flew off to Washington to represent my district, I celebrated his victory.
Unfortunately, as was the case with most Republican leaders in the era of Trump, he changed… and not for the better. Far too often, he succumbed to the way of MAGA, adopting populist positions, and remaining silent and complicit on the harmful conduct and bad ideas within his party. When his conservative, independent, pro-Constitution voice was needed most, he was usually out to lunch.
But something has changed with Buck in recent months. He’s been going through what looks like a return-to form, perhaps even a political revival. He’s been loudly calling out nonsense from his Republican colleagues and even his party’s de facto leader, Donald Trump. He’s pointed out the ridiculousness of moving to impeach Joe Biden without evidence of an abuse of power. He’s been taking the Trump indictments seriously, and has said that a criminal conviction should disqualify the former president from ever serving again. He’s been exposing the lunacy and anti-Constitutional posturing of GOP bomb-throwers like Marjorie Taylor Greene. He’s even been calling on fellow Republicans (including prospective House Speakers) to acknowledge the truth about January 6, and admit, on the record, that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
In other words, he would seem to be consciously committing political suicide within the Republican party.
Unsurprisingly, Buck’s new critics on the right have taken to comparing him to Liz Cheney. In my view, that comparison should be worn as a badge of honor. Yet, as much as I am enjoying and appreciative of this tear Buck is on, I have to wonder how genuine it is. I have to wonder what led the congressman to decide, after all these years, that it was now time to seek accountability and speak hard, public truths about his party. Did it come from a crisis of conscience, or perhaps a renewed commitment to the Constitution?
Or is there another motive at play here?
As some have pointed out, there were reports last month that Buck was considering leaving Congress and going to work for CNN or another news outlet as a political analyst. Buck acknowledged as much at the time, but there hasn’t been much talk about the possible career change since then. I normally reject the notion that a Republican who takes on Trumpist orthodoxy must be auditioning for a job in the mainstream media (because the narrative is lazy and almost always wrong), but because Buck is so late to the game, and admittedly interested in such a position, I’m having trouble dismissing it.
My hope is that in addition to being honest, he’s also being sincere. But for now, the honesty is enough, and I’m hoping we see much more of it. God knows the party needs it.