Why are Democrats even acknowledging Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?

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In the Democratic’s stepped up offensive against presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a faint whiff of panic is in the air, a stirring of concern that no good can come from one of the nation’s most storied political names lingering on the fringes of the party’s President Biden re-election strategy.

Conventional wisdom has it that a candidate trailing by as much as 50 points should be ignored. Punching down is considered a foolish and counter-productive strategy.

The issue is not in doubt – the presidential nomination is hopelessly beyond Kennedy’s grasp. His high point came early in his campaign – reaching 20 percent in some polling – but has since settled into the low teens.

Given Kennedy’s standing and failure to gain ground, the establishment has embraced a broad and orchestrated attack not merely to marginalize him, but to toss him into the “kooks and cranks” bin and convince Democrats who might be enamored of him that he’s lost his grip on reality.

The ferocity of the attacks – accusing him of antisemitism and racism, for instance – is indicates a belief that he should be crushed rather than merely damaged.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York characterized Kennedy as a Republican pawn of right wing political operatives, not so subtly tying him to former president Donald Trump, the Democratic Party’s anti-Christ.

The onslaught begs the question: Why go nuclear on a candidate who is 50 points behind, who’s lost much of the support he began with, has failed to gain any traction and cannot possibly win the nomination?

In what political universe and under what logic does Kennedy represent a threat to Biden?

To be sure, he’s given his critics ample opportunity to raise serious doubts about his fitness to lead.

His long history of claiming vaccines cause childhood ailments and psychological damage has placed him on the scientific fringe. His recent suggestion that the COVID-19 pathogen was bio-engineered to spare Asians and Jews while infecting Caucasians and African Americans was totally lacking in any foundation and brought well-deserved criticism raining down on his head.

It is difficult to regain credibility and convince others of seriousness of purpose and thought while burdened with a long history of out of the mainstream beliefs.

For the most part, the White House and the Biden campaign have wisely refrained from the attacking Kennedy, relying instead largely on Congressional surrogates to carry the message while remaining aloof and promoting the president’s agenda.

The president’s campaign has dismissed talk of a debate and the intensified focus on Kennedy’s conspiratorial ruminations provides further justification for refusing a one on one confrontation.

It also allays fears of many that Kennedy would hold his own in a debate while the Biden team would hold its collective breath hoping the president will avoid responses trailing off into mumbling, forget names and places, utter disconnected phrases or veer off into reminiscing.

Team Biden will argue that it would be dangerous to give Kennedy a national platform alongside the president to spout his wild-eyed debunked theories.

Moreover, if Biden chooses to withdraw – a matter of continued speculation despite being unlikely – it is crucial to prevent the party turning to Kennedy as a viable alternative.

While secretly longing for a 2020 reprise of a campaign from the basement, the Biden team has carefully placed him in front of friendly audiences and avoided any freewheeling interaction with the media.

The strategy recognizes that Biden’s public approval remains in the low forty percent range, a majority disapproves of his handling of inflation, and more than 40 percent of self-identified Democrats would prefer a different candidate.

Convincing voters conditions under Biden are far more comfortable than their real life daily experiences will be difficult. Erasing that disconnect will require more than selling “Bidenomics” – it will demand visible economic improvement, easing inflation and bringing the cost of living into alignment with personal income and ability to pay.

Achieving those goals should take precedence over tamping down misplaced and imaginary panic about a candidate with a legendary name but whose impact and influence are those of someone named Smith or Jones.

Copyright 2023 Carl Golden, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.