Opinion: Will RFK Jr. lob a ‘hail Mary’ to Aaron Rodgers?

Editor’s Note: Arick Wierson is an Emmy Award-winning television producer and former senior media adviser to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He lives in Minnesota and advises corporate clients on communications strategies in the United States and across the world. Follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. Read more opinion on CNN.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is almost certainly going to lose in his bid to be elected president of the United States this November. This week’s revelation that the former Democrat-turned-independent is considering drafting New York Jets’ quarterback and fellow conspiracy-peddler Aaron Rodgers as his running mate makes his quixotic bid for the White House seem all the more unlikely. In fact, it smacks of desperation.

Arick Wierson - Tunheim
Arick Wierson - Tunheim

Kennedy’s campaign said this week that he plans to announce his choice of running mate on March 26 in Oakland, California. Polls haven’t settled the question yet of where Kennedy lands in a Biden-Trump matchup. He was lagging way behind President Joe Biden early in his campaign when he was running as a Democrat, but in October he dropped out of the party primary and announced that he would mount a third-party bid.

Despite that change, Kennedy has deep family ties to the Democratic party and at first glance, it might seem that he would inflict more damage on Biden. But advisers close to former President Donald Trump have made it no secret that they too are worried about the effect that Kennedy might have on GOP voters who are already lukewarm about putting Trump back in office.

By revealing that he has been in talks with Rodgers (as well as former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura) as a potential running mate for 2024, Kennedy is opening up his playbook. He’s signaling that he feels he needs to add some star power to his ticket, with the race coming into greater focus now that both major party candidates have locked up their nominations.

For Rodgers, who is 40 years old and in the twilight of his career, accepting the invitation to become Kennedy’s running mate could make a ton of sense. After all, why not? Last season, while off the field for all except the first four plays in his first game after being sidelined by a torn Achilles, Rodgers suggested that he is looking forward to a career in broadcasting after he hangs up his cleats. Adding “vice presidential candidate” to his list of accolades would probably give him a career boost, no matter what he decides to do after he retires from football.

But for Kennedy, having Rodgers on the ticket doesn’t add up — unless of course, he isn’t really running to win, but just to make some noise and attract a lot of attention.

Despite his dynastic surname, Kennedy has offered up a host of downright cray-cray positions on Covid-19, including his theory that people of Chinese and Jewish ancestry are less susceptible to the virus. He also promoted an unhinged theory that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was complicit in launching “a historic coup d’état against Western democracy” by dramatizing the impact of the virus. Putting Rodgers on the ticket would simply add to the mayhem, given the football star’s embrace of some equally off-kilter conspiracy theories.

Rodgers, who is adamantly anti-vax, has reportedly questioned, for example, whether 9/11 terror attacks really happened. And his views on the health benefits of eavesdropping on dolphins while they’re mating are — really quite something. Perhaps Rodgers simply enjoys grabbing headlines by playing the role of provocateur. (This is the same guy, after all, who has discussed the quality of his bowel movements on air.) Or maybe he really believes most of what he says. Either way, Kennedy tapping him as running mate would likely turn off informed voters looking for a viable third option. It would probably mostly appeal to low-information voters looking for the next shiny object.

If RFK Jr. does extend the invitation to Rodgers, and if the NFL quarterback accepts it, it’s unclear how he would manage his obligations on the campaign trail while at the same time carrying out his duties on the football field — unless, of course, he turns each of his Sunday afternoon gridiron appearances into a televised rally. Believe me, in the Trump era, anything is possible.

But who knows? Given the huge interest in the Kansas City Chiefs this past season thanks to the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift romance, which generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the NFL, who knows if the league might be open to the free publicity and added viewership that could come with having a VP candidate on the field every week?

From a purely political perspective — assuming Kennedy is actually trying to impact the outcome of this year’s race — a far more sensible choice for running mate would be former Minnesota governor and retired pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura. With this long-time independent at his side, Kennedy would keep his ticket’s “outsider status” intact while gaining a seasoned politician with actual governing experience.

By adding Ventura, Kennedy could end up peeling off a significant number of disaffected voters from both parties who are not inclined to support either major party candidate. If the Kennedy-Ventura ticket were to really take hold, its impact in swing states could be decisive, although it’s hard to discern at this point what party would be hurt more. It’s an open question whether as an independent he would draw more votes from Biden or Trump. A recent NBC News poll found that 34% of all registered voters said they could imagine supporting Kennedy.

Of course, if neither Rodgers nor Ventura pans out, I’d suggest that Kennedy can always turn to a backup plan: He can name his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, best known for her role on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” now in its 12th and final season, to be his running mate. Although Hines has no political experience, playing the long-suffering onscreen wife for many years to a personality as obstreperous as Larry David should have prepared her for just about anything.

As ridiculous as this particular husband-wife duo might seem vying for the chance to run the country, it’s no more absurd than the idea of a Kennedy-Rodgers ticket, if you really stop to think about it.

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