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RFK Jr’s choice for VP will upset Democrats

By Greg Orman 
Real Clear Wire

The selection by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of attorney Nicole Shanahan as his running mate is sure to create more attacks on his campaign by Democrats. Prior to choosing Shanahan, an ardently pro-choice former Democrat, the Kennedy campaign seemed to be drawing support equally across the political spectrum. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who were open to an alternative to Biden but skeptical of Kennedy’s prior positions on reproductive rights might give the independent campaign a second look with Shanahan on the ticket. That could tip the mix of Kennedy supporters in a way that’s damaging to President Biden’s re-election hopes.

Shanahan also solves a money problem for Kennedy. To date, the independent has relied on his super PAC to pay for the signature-gathering process required to gain ballot access in many states. The legality of this arrangement is questionable, as Democrats have pointed out in two separate cases before the FEC. With Shanahan’s donations to the campaign, the Kennedy super PAC can spend its resources elsewhere.

Regardless of how this plays out over the next couple of weeks, the selection of Shanahan all but guarantees that there will be a well-funded challenger to the ruling two parties in November. This is prior to No Labels deciding on whether to field a presidential ticket. If the centrist group selects a brand name ticket, as they’ve been hinting at for months, the November presidential elections will give voters options not seen in most Americans’ lifetimes.

The fact that both Kennedy and No Labels could make it this far indicates that the historic guardrails that the two-party system has erected to insulate itself from competition are beginning to fail. Ballot access rules that the duopoly has made more restrictive over time only work if candidates lack the tens of millions of dollars it costs to gather signatures. Legal challenges against both No Labels and RFK Jr. have so far proven ineffective, in part due to the strength of the challengers’ legal teams. New media platforms also make it easier for independents to bypass the partisan gatekeepers at traditional media outlets. And the funding limits placed on third parties don’t work all that well with the advent of super PACs and billionaire candidates.

With the failure of all these structural impediments to competition, the parties will no doubt lean into their most potent defense, the time-tested narrative that independent candidates can’t win. This is repeated as an article of faith by partisan politicians and a compliant media. Political scientists refer to it as an immutable law of nature, like gravity. This is despite many examples of independents who have won statewide races. The narrative exerts a sort of gravitational pull on independents. It’s a vicious cycle that’s intended to diminish and dismiss independents and ultimately serves to deprive voters of good public servants who aren’t beholden to party bosses and special interests.  

As a result of this dishonest narrative, a majority of Americans actually believe that independents can’t win. Consequently, voters often don’t consider them when asked by pollsters who they are going to vote for. The resulting polling leads the media to disregard independent candidates or alternatively only speak of them in terms of how they might impact the race by taking votes from one candidate or another. That limited attention from the media makes it difficult for independent candidates to get their message out – leading to low polling numbers. And the cycle continues.

The only way to break through the gravitational pull is to get enough early support from voters to cause those who believe independents can’t win to rethink their choices. This can have a trampoline effect – catapulting an independent candidate into contention as it did for Jesse Ventura when he won the Minnesota governor’s race and Ross Perot prior to dropping out of the presidential race in the summer of 1992.

With the addition of Shanahan to his ticket, Bobby Kennedy’s son and namesake may be setting himself up for just such an event. If Kennedy remains in the mid to high teens through Labor Day, the duopoly would be hard-pressed to deny him a place on the debate stage. As more voters get a chance to contrast him with the soon-to-be most disliked duo in the history of presidential races, the results may be surprising. If nothing else, Kennedy today announced that he can’t be ignored.

Greg Orman is a Kansas entrepreneur, author of “A Declaration of Independents,” and a former independent candidate for governor and senator of his state. His website is
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