Robert Kennedy Jr. is unlikely to get through the Electoral College vote in the upcoming US Presidential elections. But to look at him as someone trying to “cash in” on the family name, as the Trump campaign once said, is not only far fetched but also simplistic.

Deep down both the Trump and Biden campaigns know that if history is anything to go by, third parties and Independents have left an imprint on political fortunes.

On Tuesday when Kennedy Jr. picked Nicole Shanahan as his running mate, he was only giving finishing touches to a process that required a Vice Presidential nominee to get on the November ballot in several states.

Kennedy belongs to a powerful political clan that has left its imprint on the national and international scene and continues to do so. Robert Kennedy was Attorney General and was a a Presidential candidate when he was assassinated in 1968; and Kennedy Jr had two famous Uncles — the iconic President John F Kennedy and the big liberal Edward Kennedy that even Presidents like Ronald Reagan had to do business with.

Family disquiet

But within the Kennedy family that some of them have sharply criticised his decision to challenge the incumbent.

Forgetting for a minute the raft of polls showing Trump or Biden narrowly leading the other nationally and in competitive states, the fact remains that 70 percent of Americans do not want to see either Biden or Trump on the Presidential ballot. And Kennedy Jr. may be a very long shot but the general impression is that his ratings are better with the Republicans than Democrats.

Still supporters of Trump and Biden see Kennedy Jr. as a spoiler. “The truth is, they’re both right. My intention is to spoil it for both of them”, Kennedy Jr. said at a campaign rally.

The Biden campaign has been relatively quiet and for good reasons: there is enough disquiet within the party over domestic and foreign policy that going after the Kennedy campaign aggressively could be counter-productive.

For the Trump campaign would find it easier to call RFK Jr. a “radical Democrat” than to hold on to their own who are looking for something different in 2024 than the worn out rhetoric or conspiracy theories on fraudulent and stolen elections.

Third parties

Democrats and Republicans alike have seen the footprints of Independents and Third Party candidates starting with the 1980 Presidential election when John Anderson broke away from the Grand Old Party and polled nearly 7 per cent of the popular vote; in 1992 Ross Perot’s Reform Party dented the fortunes of Republican George HW Bush; and in 2000 George W Bush was handed Florida by a mere 537 votes, but Independents and the Green Party together polled more than 130,000 votes.

In 2024 the Democrats are having to fend off not only Kennedy Jr. but also other third party options like No Labels that is trying to sew a centrist ticket.

This US election is likely to go down to the wire, with swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania playing a key role.

Pinning false labels on Kennedy Jr or celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the White House with the extended Kennedy family may not do a world of good for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations