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  /  News   /  RFK Jr. seizes on Trump verdict to bolster support

RFK Jr. seizes on Trump verdict to bolster support

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is using former President Trump’s guilty verdict in a New York hush-money trial to court voters on the fence about the former president’s conviction.

Kennedy, who’s running as an independent, railed against the decision last week, calling it “profoundly undemocratic” and suggesting the trial was a political ploy by Democrats to damage their No. 1 Republican rival.

His comments come as he looks for avenues to expand his support with many of the same voters that Trump is targeting — as well as independents disenchanted by the top choices.

“This conviction is going to backfire on the Democrats,” Kennedy said in an appearance on Fox News after the jury’s decision became public. “I think every time that President Trump has been indicted, that his approval ratings actually increase, his popularity increases.”

Echoing views held by many on the right, Kennedy argues that Democrats’ embrace of investigations into Trump makes them look politically motivated and entrenched in a corrupt system. He argues that it exposes government agencies as highly partisan.

Despite the optics, Trump’s legal troubles do not prevent him from winning the White House for the second time. After being found guilty of falsifying business records by the Manhattan district attorney, it’s unclear how he will be impacted in November. The Trump campaign announced that it raised $141 million alongside the Republican National Committee in May — a huge sum for any election cycle, but particularly for a nominee embroiled in legal drama.  

With Trump showing no signs of slowing down, some Kennedy boosters believe that the verdict could also have a positive impact on the independent candidate. 

“There could be a slice of independents who were leaning Trump, but now feel some fatigue, especially with the convictions,” said a source close to Kennedy’s campaign. “If Bobby can get on the debate stage, this would be a prime opportunity to speak to those people.”

Biden and his allies have dialed up their rhetoric against the former president and stepped up their fundraising pleas in the wake of the verdict. Meanwhile, Kennedy has trained his attacks not on Trump, but on Democrats.

His actions come as some Republicans argue the Trump news could benefit the current president. 

“I actually think that the verdict could hurt RFK and help Biden,” said Brian Seitchik, a Republican strategist who served on Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

It’s not clear how the verdict will resonate with the electorate in November. But some argue that voters who were hesitant about Biden before and were contemplating backing Kennedy could see Trump’s conviction as the last straw that will tip them over into Biden’s camp, amid concerns that Kennedy’s presence on the ballot could help elect Trump.

“There are a large bloc of folks who are 2020 Biden voters who have moved into the ‘double hater’ category,” Seitchik said. “I believe this Trump verdict is going to force those folks who were probably predisposed to vote for Biden but unhappy with his failed leadership … to go back to Biden to ‘stop Trump.’”

“This verdict sort of forces those reluctant Biden voters camping out in RFK Land to move back to Biden Land,” Seitchik added. “I’m going to be watching RFK Jr.’s polling numbers in the next week to 10 days and beyond in the swing states. That’s really the group that matters.”

Polling has shown mixed results for whom Kennedy hurts more. In the early days of his switch to an independent ticket, Democrats were more outwardly flustered than Republicans that he could impair their side. But newer polling has also shown him taking away some support from Trump, and the former president’s allies have escalated their attacks accordingly. 

“It’s still relatively unclear and it can vary a little bit from state to state,” said Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) who recently conducted a battleground poll with Kennedy as an option in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

“As we get closer to Election Day, voters that are picking a third party as an expression of their dissatisfaction do tend to come home a little bit,” he said. “They align with their more likely inclinations for party voting.”

“Even though in our polling we have RFK Jr. at 10 percent, my suspicion is that those voters probably don’t stay at quite that volume,” he said.

The FAU poll, which was conducted with Mainstreet Research, found that if Kennedy is a candidate on the ballot by the time of the general election in the fall, he helps Biden’s overall chances against Trump in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two important swing states. Biden is currently slightly behind Trump in those two states without Kennedy in the mix.

Kennedy has ramped up his attempt to appeal to — or at least not alienate — Trump supporters through conservative hosts like Ben Shapiro and traditional right-wing news appearances. His interview with Fox News’s Jesse Watters, where he said that he didn’t want “to beat Trump in a courtroom” — a not-so-subtle dig at Democrats — is the first segment featured on his campaign’s website. 

But Kennedy still has a mountain of challenges. The public perception of him, multiple sources said, is still being formed. Others say that his lack of a clear message and policy agenda beyond his anti-establishment sentiment and the appeal of his famous last name is not strong enough to match his opponents. The era of the Kennedys is past its time in the public limelight, skeptics argue.

“I don’t think RFK himself is really getting any traction with anybody,” said Keith Naughton, a GOP political consultant, about RFK’s position with voters postverdict. “I don’t perceive him picking up anything. What does he have to say? He’s got nothing to say about the trail that he hasn’t been saying before.”

“He doesn’t have a message,” Naughton added. “He’s just sort of sopping up these protest votes.”

Seitchik agreed. “The majority of his voters are really anti-Trump and anti-Biden,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of folks out there that are die-hard RFK Jr. voters.”