Donald Trump-RFK Jr. feud comes to a head at Libertarian National Convention

Tensions between former Presidents Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are expected to come to a head this weekend at the Libertarian Party Convention in Washington, where both presidential candidates are trying to win the support of their party’s voters.

Both candidates are scheduled to speak at the convention, and Kennedy even challenged Trump to a debate at the rally.

Trump’s surprise decision to attend the event highlights the potential threat Kennedy may pose to his bid for another term in the White House.

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

Most national polls suggest that Kennedy would likely be more harmful to President Biden than Trump in a hypothetical general election scenario. A Fox News national poll released last week gave Trump a one-point lead over Biden among likely voters, but when Kennedy and fellow independent candidate Cornel West were included in the poll, Trump’s lead over Biden widened to three points.

But polls in key battleground states paint a different picture. New York Times/Siena College Survey The same poll released last week found that a slightly larger percentage of Trump supporters, 8 percent, would back Kennedy in a five-way race, while 7 percent of Biden supporters said they would back Kennedy.

“When you look at the numbers, the national impact is somewhat negligible or tilted against Biden,” one Republican national strategist said, “but when you look at the battleground states, it actually looks like there’s a lot of variation between states as to who is going to be more hurt by RFK’s inclusion.”

“It’s not a 30-point difference,” the Republican strategist added, “it’s a one or two point difference in some cases. But in Michigan and Arizona, it could make a difference.”

Trump has noticed this and has attacked Kennedy multiple times on Truth Social. When asked earlier this month if he would debate Kennedy, the former president said the independent presidential candidate was “not a serious candidate.”

The pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again has sent a series of memos portraying Kennedy as a liberal on many issues and has sent out a slew of emails criticizing his policy positions and highlighting past comments he has made praising former President Barack Obama and calling the conservative Tea Party movement a “resurrection of the Confederacy.”

And last week, Trump spoke directly to the National Rifle Association’s members at the organization’s annual convention in Dallas, blasting Kennedy.

“RFK Jr. said some nasty things and called you a terrorist group, and I call you the pillars of America,” Trump said. “Don’t you think that’s a big difference?”

A similar dynamic could play out at the Libertarian Convention as President Trump tries to rally support among party members.

“Trump is concerned and envious of Bobby’s legitimate support from pro-healthcare freedom voters,” one source familiar with the Kennedy campaign said.

The source suggested that these voters are “moving away from Trump because of his vaccine touting.”

Strategists say Trump’s move to speak at the Libertarian Party convention could give him an advantage in a multi-candidate race.

“Politics is a game of addition, not subtraction,” one Republican strategist said. “If a second Electoral College runoff occurs in Nebraska, 150 Libertarians could decide the outcome of the presidential election, so it’s definitely worth the investment.”

The strategist was referring to an unlikely but plausible scenario in which control of the White House could depend on who wins Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District (where a portion of the electoral votes are apportioned).

Kennedy, in turn, called him “the most skilled debater in modern American political history” and challenged him to a debate.

“I would like to hear President Trump defend his record in a respectful and peaceful debate, not hurling poison bombs from the safety of a bunker,” Kennedy said.

A source close to the Kennedy campaign told The Hill that they did not believe the exchange between Kennedy and Trump was personal.

Some Democrats, however, say the feud highlights the similarities between the two men.

“Trump and Kennedy suffer from the same pathological need to be the center of attention all the time,” said Democratic activist Doug Gordon, “and attacking each other allows them both to satisfy that need.”

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

“Given his strong position in the Sun Belt states, I think it makes sense to go after RFK, since that’s the only Rust Belt state Trump needs to win at that point,” one Republican national strategist said.

Hannah Trud contributed.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.