Many conservative media figures are celebrating longtime anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign as a potential spoiler against President Joe Biden’s reelection, using his entry into the primary to call for Democratic debates — which usually aren't held when a party is running an incumbent.
“Why no Democratic debates planned,” some in right-wing media incredulously ask, complaining that “the Democrats would like to see” primary debates, “but Joe says no,” framing business-as-usual as a Democratic establishment plot to “pave the way for Joe Biden.”
There were no official Republican primary debates in 2020, because the party ran former President Donald Trump as an incumbent. There were no official Democratic primary debates in 2012, because the party ran former president Barack Obama as an incumbent (though there was one unofficial debate with minor candidates). There were no official Republican primary debates in 2004, because the party ran former president George W. Bush as an incumbent.
Despite the clear, nonpartisan precedent, right-wing media are still trying to force the issue to broadly destabilize Democrats -- and using Kennedy’s campaign to do so. Prominent Trump ally Steve Bannon, who encouraged Kennedy to run, has said that he could be a “useful chaos agent” in the Democratic primaries, and right-wing media are trying to make Bannon’s vision a reality.
Newsmax host Greta Van Susteren openly theorized that the Democratic Party will not be doing primary debates “to run interference for a candidate many in the party might not be wild about running again.” “If no debates,” she added, “some may wonder: What’s the DNC afraid of?”
In an interview Van Susteren did with Kennedy, he called the lack of debates “a bad thing for democracy” because “there are so many people who believe that the system is rigged against them,” before making the tortured point that the January 6 attack was an example of why Democrats should debate in 2024.
Also on Newsmax, Wake Up America co-host Rob Finnerty complained that the party was “already announcing that Democrats won’t have any debates despite right now, RFK Jr. is polling at 14%.”
His guest, RNC national spokesperson Danielle Alvarez, agreed that “Democrats are going to pave the way for Joe Biden” and “it’s shameful,” because “debates and having that discourse is incredibly important to our democracy.” Finnerty concluded that Biden is “hiding from the American people.”
(Notably, the dominant GOP front-runner repeatedly suggested that he will not participate in primary debates, either.)
Failed gubernatorial candidate and election truther Kari Lake told Newsmax’s Eric Bolling that “they won’t do a debate” because “RFK Jr. is running, and they know that he would mop the floor with Joe Biden.” Bolling agreed, adding that a lack of debates was “really insulting to the American people, [and] it should be insulting to the Democrats’ intelligence.”
On Fox News, Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy promoted Kennedy’s call for Democratic primary debates, adding that “the Democrats would like to see -- well, except for the party honchos -- they would like to see some debates with the other people, but Joe says no.” His guest, pollster Lee Carter, called Kennedy’s polling strength “significant” and added that “the Democratic Party really does need to have a debate about who are they going to be and what are the issues they’re going to be focused on. … So let’s debate it.”
On Fox & Friends First, Fox contributor Joe Concha focused on polling showing that “one-third of Democratic voters say they would rather have either RFK, Marianne Williamson, or a player to be named later” instead of Biden.
“When you take away a debate stage,” Concha added, “it sends a shot across the bow to guys like Joe Manchin, who may think of running” that they should not. “The basement strategy worked in 2020; it is alive and well in 2023, guys.”