May 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

RFK Jr. becomes presidential debate X factor

This is RFK

Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Trump and Biden campaigns have lit a fire under RFK Jr. and his supporters. They may regret it.

Why it matters: Kennedy might struggle to qualify for the June 27 CNN debate. But his campaign can now frame signing a ballot access petition — or mentioning his name to a pollster — as a way to stick it to former President Trump and President Biden.

  • To qualify, Kennedy will need to hit 15% in four high-quality national polls and to be on the ballot in enough states to have a shot at 270 electoral votes.
  • He's got access to cash thanks to his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, who chipped in $4 million to help run his now-notorious Super Bowl ad.
  • Kennedy campaign director Amaryllis Fox posted today, "We anticipate fulfilling all participation criteria" by the deadline.

Zoom in: Trump and Biden's campaigns are both unhappy about CNN's debate qualification rules.

  • A Trump official told The Washington Post a CNN producer had promised in a call today that "RFK will not be on the stage."
  • A Biden adviser told Axios: "Our criteria for a 1:1 debate was made clear publicly, it was made clear to CNN and they understood our position when we accepted their offer."
  • CNN told Axios that "candidates just need to meet the qualifications laid out to in the release. At this time, only Biden and Trump have qualified." Asked about the Biden adviser's comment, CNN declined to respond.

Zoom out: The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates is now unlikely to attract headline candidates.

  • It may get a chuckle at Biden and Trump's expense: "I'd love to be a fly on the wall as they are trying to agree on the terms," co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. told the Post.
  • "One of the reasons we were created is campaigns could never agree on the most important things," he said.
Go deeper