After the messy 2020 Democratic nomination process, President Joe Biden had a brilliant idea: Why not move the first primary to South Carolina?
It’s not just that the Palmetto State was where Biden managed to turn around a flailing, drowning campaign with a single endorsement (namely, then-House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, a local icon who threw his weight behind the former vice president as it seemed all but certain either Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg’s late long-shot moneybags campaign were the only contenders left).
South Carolina, the Democrats said, represented America in a more diverse way — and would produce a candidate who looked more like America in the 21st century.
Translation: There are more black Democratic voters in South Carolina, which makes things a heck of a lot easier to fend off a primary challenge from, oh, just randomly spitballing here, California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Not like he’s positioning himself for a run or anything like that. Just, you know, picking a random guy. Who’s definitely positioning himself for a presidential run.)
The Democratic Party agreed with Biden, because of course it did.
However, things don’t work quite that easily — and now, instead of fending off his primary challengers, the move may have handed the New Hampshire primary to none other than Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy as a presidential candidate is the Democrats’ worst nightmare for a variety of reasons. There is the fact that, aside from his work as an environmentalist, he’s also known for being opposed to every vaccine known to man, and (let’s be frank here) not for very good reasons. As it turns out, he may finally have been right about one — and it happens to be just the one vaccine the Biden administration wanted to mandate every American take.
Unfortunately, he’s difficult to call a “fringe” candidate — because he’s garnering support.
The RealClearPolitics polling aggregate has him at 14 percent compared with Biden’s 64 percent. Furthermore, only one poll taken in the past two months has him polling under double digits.
Considering this was supposed to be a coronation for Biden, 64 percent vs. 14 percent doesn’t look particularly great, particularly since the media have been scrambling to paint RFK Jr. as a cuckoo bird.
Nor is this just a protest vote against a Biden administration that some Democrats see as insufficiently liberal, or that some independents feel is incompetent. I’m sure there’s some of that, but there’s also evidence of enthusiasm around the RFK Jr. campaign:
“That’s the line for RFK Jr.,” said Jeremy Kauffmann, a blockchain CEO and Free State Project supporter, in a minute-and-a-half video from one of the candidate’s New Hampshire events last week. It’s quite the queue.
Now, fine. Biden did poorly in New Hampshire in 2020 and hasn’t performed well there in his previous campaigns. But what does this have to do with Kennedy winning?
Well, as Voice of America noted, the Granite State has a law protecting its first-in-the-nation primary status: If another state decides to schedule its primary before New Hampshire’s, New Hampshire is required by law to then schedule its primary seven days before that state’s.
Furthermore, New Hampshire Democrats are unwilling to give away their first-in-the-nation status, according to The Hill — a real problem in a swing state where blue-collar voters could swing to Trump and deliver him a few electoral votes.
As The Hill noted, “Biden outraged many Democrats in the state when he proposed last year to make South Carolina the first to vote in the primary, citing its diversity, and putting it ahead of New Hampshire and Iowa, which had always gone first. Though the calendar hasn’t been formally settled yet, many New Hampshire Democrats are already suggesting the state could defy the Democratic National Committee and hold their primary ahead of schedule.
“Should that happen, Biden allies have indicated the president likely won’t participate — leaving an opening for a candidate like Kennedy to win.”
“It was President Biden’s decision to deprive New Hampshire of its historic ‘First in the Nation Primary’ status,” said RFK Jr. campaign manager Dennis Kucinich, himself a long-shot Democratic candidate in 2004 and 2008.
“Our decision is to respect the people of New Hampshire.”
Or at least to court them, aggressively. According to WMUR-TV in Manchester, Kennedy participated in a recent town hall event in the state in which he compared his campaign to his father’s doomed 1968 presidential bid — which ended in RFK Sr.’s assassination shortly after a win in the California primary — and said he could unite the country in the same way he predicted his father would have.
“My dad had faced the same thing when he ran for president against the sitting president of his own party. The same as I’m doing,” Kennedy said.
“You know, my father … succeeded in uniting the country,” he continued, noting his father’s wins in the late stages of the 1968 primary race came in both the country’s most urban and most rural states.
“He had succeeded in bridging that gap. This was at a time that was almost as polarized as we are today.”
Kennedy also courted immigration hawks who were frustrated with the Biden administration’s border policy, saying that “no country can survive if it can’t control its borders.”
If Biden loses New Hampshire, let’s not be fooled: This won’t be a slingshot that delivers the nomination to RFK Jr. However, it’s also worth noting that no sitting president has lost a state in the modern primary system and gone on to win the general election. (And for that matter, only two have lost states, period: Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.)
Furthermore, a win in New Hampshire — and perhaps in Iowa, where voters also aren’t exactly plussed at Biden’s decision — could see RFK Jr.’s numbers rise significantly. NewsNation noted that Iowa officials have said they intend to keep a caucus date before South Carolina as well.
It would be difficult for any candidate, even a sitting president, to justify refusing to debate a candidate drawing 20- and 30-percent poll results. That could compound an already lousy situation, given that Biden seems to struggle with scripted public appearances these days.
If anything, though, the brewing New Hampshire debacle is a delightfully perfect metaphor for the entire Biden administration thus far.
The president and his consiglieres sought to preclude any kind of challenge to an aging commander-in-chief by reshuffling the primary calendar to suit him.
However, it’s not quite so easy — and instead of heading off a Gavin Newsom or Amy Klobuchar, they’ve potentially handed victory to a man the party has branded as a dangerous conspiracy theorist.