Trump-RFK Jr. feud comes to a head at Libertarian convention

Tensions between former President Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are set to come to a head at the Libertarian Party convention this weekend in Washington as both presidential candidates court the party’s voters.

Both candidates will address the convention, and Kennedy has even challenged Trump to a debate at the gathering.

Trump’s surprising decision to appear at the event underscores the potential threat Kennedy could have as he seeks another term in the White House.

“What the Trump campaign wants to do is paint the picture that despite what you think about and hear about RFK Jr., and the words coming out of his mouth, he is nothing more than a far-left whacko,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist.

Most national polling has suggested Kennedy could have a more detrimental effect on President Biden than Trump in a hypothetical general election scenario. A Fox News national poll released last week showed Trump leading Biden among registered voters by 1 point in a head-to-head match-up, but when Kennedy and fellow Independent candidate Cornel West were included in the poll, Trump’s lead over Biden widened to 3 points.

However, polls out of key battleground states paint a different picture. A New York Times/Siena College survey also released last week showed a slightly larger share of Trump’s supporters, 8 percent, preferring Kennedy in a five-way race. Seven percent of Biden’s supporters said they preferred Kennedy.

“When you look at the numbers, you can see the impact nationally seems to be somewhat negligible or lean against Biden,” said one national Republican strategist. “But when you get to the battleground states, it really does actually seem to shift between them as to who gets hurt more by RFK’s participation.”

“It’s not a 30-point difference,” the GOP strategist added. “In some cases, it’s a 1- or 2-point difference. But in a Michigan or an Arizona, that might be difference.”

Trump has taken notice, attacking Kennedy a number of times on Truth Social. When asked earlier this month whether he would debate Kennedy, the former president said Kennedy was “not a serious candidate.”

The pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc. has sent out a series of memos painting Kennedy as liberal on a number of issues and has blasted out emails hitting him over his policy positions and highlighting past remarks, such as those in which Kennedy praised former President Obama and called the conservative Tea Party movement “the Resurgence of the Confederacy.”

And just last week, Trump slammed Kennedy at the annual National Rifle Association meeting in Dallas, speaking directly to the group’s members.

“RFK Jr. says bad, bad things and calls you a terrorist group, and I call you the backbone of America,” Trump said. “That’s a big difference, wouldn’t you say?”

A similar dynamic could play out at the Libertarian Party convention as Trump looks to galvanize support from the party’s members.

“Trump is worried and envious of Bobby’s legit support from pro-medical freedom voters,” said one source familiar with Kennedy’s campaign.

Those voters, the source suggested, “are leaving Trump over his vax shilling.”

Strategists say Trump’s move to address the Libertarian Party convention could help move the needle in his favor in a multiway race.

“Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction,” said the Republican strategist. “In a God-forbid Nebraska-02 Electoral College showdown … 150 Libertarians could be the difference between the presidency, so it is absolutely worth the investment.”

The strategist was referring to the unlikely but possible scenario in which control of the White House could hinge on whoever wins the 2nd Congressional District in Nebraska, which doles out some of its electoral votes by district.

Kennedy for his part has challenged the former president to debate him, referring to him as the “most adept debater in modern American political history.”

“Instead of lobbing poisonous bombs from the safety of his bunker, let’s hear President Trump defend his record to me mano-a-mano by respectful, congenial debate,” Kennedy said.

The source familiar with Kennedy’s campaign told The Hill that they did not think the back-and-forth between Kennedy and Trump was personal.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, argue the feud underscores the two men’s similarities.

“Both Trump and Kennedy suffer from the same pathological need to always be at the center of attention,” said Doug Gordon, a Democratic operative. “Attacking each other helps both accomplish that.”

Republicans argue that Trump’s attacks on Kennedy are more strategic in nature.

“Given his solid stances in the Sun Belt states, I think it makes sense to go after RFK just because at that point Trump only needs to pick up one of the Rust Belt states,” said the national Republican strategist.

Hanna Trudo contributed.

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