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RFK Jr. fuels talk of Libertarian party switch: ‘He’s a rogue punk rocker’

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is fueling speculation that he could join the Libertarian Party’s presidential ticket as he seeks to qualify in more states heading into November.

Kennedy raised eyebrows late last month when he spoke at the party’s annual convention in California, a development that was welcomed as a signal of intent from some Libertarians and came as he gains ballot access in swing states as an independent candidate.

While Kennedy himself has only casually entertained a possible switch, there is growing support among party members, strategists and activists for him to join their ranks, multiple sources told The Hill.

“There’s a buzz going on, and there’s a lot of interest in him,” said Ron Nielson, who served as former Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s campaign manager in 2012 and 2016.

“If he were to say that he were to accept the nomination of the Libertarian Party, that would probably change a lot of heads,” Nielson said. “There are people within the Liberty movement that would like to help him.”

One source in Kennedy’s orbit echoed that sentiment.

“There is a willingness of people in the Liberty movement to consider Bobby, for sure,” the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal campaign dynamics.

“He’s a rogue punk rocker of the political system,” the source added.

Kennedy wants to appear uniformly on ballots across the map as part of a third-party crusade against President Biden and former President Trump. He regularly laments the established parties’ front-runners, deeming them unfit to address the current national turmoil and bigger systemic problems in government. So far, he’s become an official contender in New Hampshire and Utah, and last week he added Hawaii to his camp’s tally.

But observers from many corners of the political system are increasingly skeptical that he’ll be able to gather enough signatures in time.

Libertarians, meanwhile, have taken notice of Kennedy’s more recent movements, quietly expressing a willingness to nominate him at their late May convention in Washington, D.C.

“I am seeing on the ground and hearing from other politicos in the independent space that there is a unique coalition that they’re attempting to build,” said Christopher Thrasher, an independent ballot access consultant with a long former association with the Libertarian Party.

“It really does transcend party lines,” Thrasher said. “No matter what, part of their calculation is — whether it’s pre-general election or actually in the general election — activating as many individuals across an ideological spectrum as possible. The Libertarian Party and Libertarian events and conventions plays into that strategy.”

The piqued interest in Kennedy is based in a belief that this could be the most consequential election for a third party since Ross Perot in 1992. Kennedy would automatically qualify for dozens of states as a Libertarian if he were to formally change his party for the second time in the 2024 cycle. He could instantly appear in two places with the biggest electoral vote hauls, Texas and California.

“I think there’s no question that there’s a real chance for an independent or third-party candidate to actually win electoral votes in this election,” Thrasher said.

Kennedy hasn’t exactly been shy about this thought process. Despite his politically connected Democratic family, his stances around freedom of speech and censorship put him outside of what many consider to be mainstream in American politics. In that sense, a Libertarian bid could be a natural fit for the 70-year-old, who’s campaigning as an insurgent despite his bloodline.

In a recent appearance on CNN, Kennedy said he’s “looking at” another possible party flip, this time toward Libertarian. The California convention was his biggest sign to date that he’s considering a run for their ticket.

He could theoretically wait until the spring to change his affiliation, just before the convention or even as late as during the event itself, but many caution that it’s better to do it sooner than later.

“He’s got a small window to make a choice here. I don’t think he would be wasting his time showing up to the Libertarians’ convention in California if he wasn’t giving serious consideration to running for their nomination,” said the source familiar with Kennedy’s thinking.

Adrian Malagon, an at-large representative for the Libertarian National Committee, told The Hill that Kennedy was “very well received” at the conference. “We’re incredibly grateful that he accepted our invitation,” he said.

The Kennedy campaign did not provide comment.

Kennedy’s growing behind-the-scenes support within Libertarian circles comes as he continues to present an alternative to Biden and Trump. Some within the party concede that his policies are not totally aligned with their agenda, noting his posture around guns and his foreign policy stance on Israel, which some criticize as too close to Biden’s.

But many are willing to consider Kennedy as the “lesser of two evils,” with the caveat that he would give their party a bigger platform. Many also see an upside in platforming a celebrity-style candidate. That’s particularly important after the movement has suffered recent fissures over ideological turf wars that have blunted their national momentum.

Some of the most fervent Libertarians, including the Mises Caucus, are not likely to accept Kennedy and have already started pushing back against his bid. Moderate Libertarians see that faction as inching closer to Trump’s right-wing politics and away from the party’s traditional values. They believe Kennedy, a former Democrat as of just a few months ago, is not a strong representation of their brand and are actively lobbying against his potential party change.

“We firmly oppose any strategy that would ‘rent out’ our party’s place on any state’s ballot to RFK, or indeed any candidate who has so many disqualifying deviations from the essential principles of libertarianism,” Aaron Harris, who chairs the Mises PAC, wrote in a blog post last month addressing the question: “Should the Libertarian Party nominate RFK Jr.?”

“We in the LP bill ourselves as ‘The Party of Principle’ for a reason: We are in this because we passionately favor individual liberty and believe that the State is the greatest threat to peace and freedom,” Harris wrote.

Despite the strong pushback from that wing of the party, others are inspired by the groundswell of interest and are urging Kennedy to make further gestures that could indicate which way he’s leaning.

“I would open the door,” said Nielson. “If he’s seriously even contemplating a Libertarian run, I think he needs to address it directly and state, ‘I would be willing to accept the nomination.’”

“You kind of let the chips fall and see what develops,” Nielson added. “Certainly, that would open a lot of discussion.”

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