Members of Donald Trump’s team are quietly preparing to go on offense against Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as internal campaign polling suggests his expected third party bid could draw more votes from Trump than President Joe Biden in a general election.
Semafor has not independently reviewed the polling. One person close to Trump’s campaign said it showed that Kennedy took more votes from Trump than left-wing independent Cornel West drew from Biden when both were tested.
“It’s single digits, but it’s enough where it counts to make a difference,” the person said. A second person familiar with the polling confirmed their description.
With Trump allies “anxious,” as one supporter put it, his campaign and outside allies are also preparing to release an onslaught of opposition research.
“We’re gonna be dropping napalm after napalm on his head reminding the public of his very liberal views, dating back to 2012,” another Trumpworld person told Semafor. “We have a lot of stuff on him.”
While it’s not clear if it’s related, the Daily Caller published a story today dredging up Kennedy’s comments from two decades ago that “factory meat integrators are more threatening to democracy than Osama bin Laden.” The same story also mentioned his description of the NRA as a “terror group” after the 2018 Parkland shooting.
RFK Jr. has himself suggested he’d be likely to rely on Republican support, saying in a recent podcast interview that he “take[s] more votes from President Trump than” from Biden. A pro-RFK Jr. super PAC produced polling suggesting as much, albeit at the margins and without other third party options included.
Democrats seem largely unconcerned about Kennedy’s campaign, though there is some divide among independent pollsters over how he might affect the race. One poll by Republican firm Echelon Insights found he drew slightly more voters from Biden, whose support they argued was more tenuous than Trump’s overall.
Trump team’s newfound focus on RFK Jr. as an opponent is yet another example of the campaign shifting into general election mode early. But it also could be dangerous for Kennedy, who up until now has enjoyed the support of many pro-Trump figures and conservative media.
“He used to be a fun plaything to hurt Biden, now he is something that could hurt the GOP,” one Trump-aligned operative said.
An early test of that shift might be Kennedy’s upcoming appearance at a CPAC event alongside presidential contenders like Vivek Ramaswamy and high-profile Trump supporters, which could be an occasion for some MAGA figures to publicly distance the movement from him.
Trump has been on friendly terms with Kennedy over the years and previously praised him as “a smart guy and well-intentioned” on the trail. If he begins signaling to his supporters that he’s on the wrong side of MAGA, that could substantially diminish Kennedy’s appeal.
Some of this may also depend on how Kennedy positions himself in the coming weeks. Does he highlight his more liberal views, like his environmental advocacy? Or does he focus on his anti-vaccine messaging, which has found more traction on the right and with a segment of independent voters who have drifted towards Trump in recent years?
The View From The Trump Campaign
“President Trump is leading by wide margins in every single poll — both nationally and statewide — in the primary and general elections,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “The fact is that President Trump will beat Biden because he’s the only person who can supercharge the economy, secure our border, safeguard communities, and put an end to unnecessary wars. Americans want to return to a prosperous nation and there’s only one person who can do that – President Trump.”
- Elections analyst Nate Silver recently argued that a third-party run by RFK Jr. “probably doesn’t hurt Biden” in part because “polls fairly consistently show Kennedy with stronger favorable ratings among Republicans than Democrats.” Based on data from other third-party runs, Silver also expressed skepticism that these efforts typically make any sort of significant impact: “Third-party support tends to collapse down the stretch if the candidates aren’t seen as viable,” he noted.