Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Independent, Presidential Campaign 2024, Tucson, AZ
Robert Kennedy Jr. rallies Tucson, AZ supporters at Fox Theatre. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Rita Palma said the quiet part out good-and-loud.

Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

By now you’ve probably heard Rita Palma say the quiet part out good-and-loud. 

Palma — either the New York state director of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign or a low-level functionary, depending on whether you want to believe Palma herself or the campaign’s spin department — was recorded on video speaking to a group of Kennedy-interested Republicans, saying stuff like “Let’s take those votes from Biden so Joe’s a loser” and “We’ll be on the same team later — as long as Trump or Kennedy wins.”

Sure sounds like confirmation of what a lot of observers have suspected about the Kennedy campaign from pretty much the get-go: The whole thing’s raison d’etre is not to win the presidency, and not even to serve as a lifeboat for voters at sea between the SS Donald Trump and SS Joe Biden, but rather to hand power and the White House back to Trump.

Of course, the Kennedy campaign was lightning quick to deny that Palma — who attended Trump’s January 6 Stop the Steal rally; insisted that there was no riot that day, that it was “99.9% peaceful”; hobnobbed with disgraced Trump attorney Sidney Powell; referred to Trump as her “favorite president”; and claimed it was perfectly OK for him to serve a third term — spoke for it, or indeed had any role at all in crafting its purpose, strategy, and tactics. A mere peon, to hear them tell it. 

So perhaps she was just padding her CV when she claimed to be the campaign’s top New York official. Though if she is not, it’s unclear who is. And though she is co-hosting a private reception for Kennedy at the $1,500–$6,600 a plate level later this month, hardly the work of a day laborer.

But OK, she doesn’t speak for the campaign! Getting inside Kennedy’s head is also a fool’s errand. Who knows what combination of ego, avarice, legacy fulfillment, vision, delusion, and/or boredom is driving him? Who knows whether he wakes up in the morning thinking, “What can I do today to screw Biden and help Trump?”

It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the impact Kennedy’s candidacy is likely to have on this epochal election and what those promoting, funding, and staffing his campaign are actually doing and planning.

Steve Bannon, Las Vegas, NV

Steve Bannon speaking with attendees at the Restoring National Confidence Summit at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, NV, January 30, 2024. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

To figure out that second part doesn’t take much sleuthing or guessing. Ex-con (he was pardoned by Trump) Steve Bannon reportedly provided the initial impetus and encouragement for Kennedy’s candidacy — the very same Steve Bannon who recently said, “Trump’s our instrument. I think we’re going to do a hundred times more in the second term.” The way Bannon thinks and operates, is it any great surprise to find Kennedy in the role of Bannon’s instrument to get to that second term?

As for financial support, from the very beginning — when he was challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination, before it finally dawned on him that he could cause far more chaos running as an independent — major far-right donors were the most enthusiastic floaters of the Kennedy boat. 

You send twenty or a hundred bucks to a campaign as a token of your support; you hope it will find some useful purpose, maybe cover a millisecond of some attack ad or get out a few votes. There are no $20 million blank checks. You send $20 million to steer the ship, not caulk it. 

And, as we’ve previously examined, there’s no longer any hiding the fact that Trump’s top donor, Mellon family scion Timothy ($16.5 million as of March), is also the top donor to Kennedy’s Super-PAC, to the tune, so far, of $20 million.

You send twenty or a hundred bucks to a campaign as a token of your support; you hope it will find some useful purpose, maybe cover a millisecond of some attack ad or get out a few votes. There are no $20 million blank checks. You send $20 million to steer the ship, not caulk it. 

If you’re Tim Mellon you’re plenty smart enough to know that Kennedy, the earthquake and eclipse notwithstanding, is not going to be the next president. His ship isn’t going to be sailing anywhere near the White House but, if you hire a good helmsman and crew, it can certainly bear down on and ram the Biden. You’re first and foremost a Trump donor — he’s the guy who’ll further cripple the government’s regulatory apparatus, pare down welfare-state “entitlements” like Medicare and Social Security, and make your taxes still more microscopic — and the idea, as you see it, is to spend whatever it takes wherever it’s most useful to give the Trump smooth sailing.

The chains of causality and influence bear further investigation but, on first look, should the content of the Palma video surprise us? Is there really any great mystery to the fact that a candid glimpse of Kennedy campaign strategy and tactics shows a staffer — top level until proven otherwise — working the room for Trump? 

Specifically, urging her audience to work to get Kennedy on New York’s ballot, thereby “spicing up the election.” Palma envisions a surprise Kennedy win in one or more blue states like New York holding Biden short of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win and throwing the election into the House, where she asks (rhetorically): “Who are they going to pick, if it’s a Republican Congress? They’ll pick Trump. So we’re rid of Biden, either way. Does everybody follow that?”

Palma may be a little fuzzy on the precise working of the contingent election she posits (which, as I have discussed in detail here, would hinge not on the overall House majority, but on control of a majority of state delegations, which the GOP is virtually guaranteed to retain), but she’s got the basic idea. 

And she said it for all to hear: The Kennedy candidacy is about getting “rid of Biden,” whether by pushing the election into the House or by pulling enough would-be Biden voters in swing states (Palma: “If you want to help Trump, go to Pennsylvania and knock on doors.”) to either hand those states and the election to Trump outright or make them close enough for Trump to launch Stop the Steal 2.0 and send his well-armed MAGA faithful to the barricades.

That’s why you’ll find Trump megadonors, but none of Biden’s, on board with Bobby, steering the ship into ramming position. 

That’s why it’s a pretty safe bet that Palma, a two-time Trump voter, is not alone on the Kennedy staff in delivering the goods for those megadonors. 

That’s why, whatever mixed messages the polls are delivering about which major-party candidate Kennedy will wind up hurting more, the smart money has already placed a big bet that it will be Biden, and will be driving the tactics and messaging from both the Kennedy and Trump campaigns to make sure that bet pays off.


Comments are closed.