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RFK Jr. may have missed a major opportunity with his VP pick : NPR


Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced lawyer, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan to the Kennedy campaign as his vice presidential running mate at an event in Oakland, California on July 26 March.

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Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced lawyer, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan to the Kennedy campaign as his vice presidential running mate at an event in Oakland, California on July 26 March.

Anadolu via Getty Images

One of the most anticipated stories in politics this week was the announcement of a running mate by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the independent presidential candidate. Kennedy introduced Nicole Shanahan as the woman he would make his vice president. Shanahan, 38, is a lawyer and high-tech businesswoman in Silicon Valley.

Shanahan made an engaging debut as a speaker, long based on sincerity and concern for environmental and health issues. She expressed doubts about the overuse of vaccines, a rather mild version of Kennedy’s well-known antipathy toward them. She said her running mate was “the only anti-war candidate today” for 2024.

Some other figures that Kennedy had recently mentioned publicly as prospects — like Aaron Rodgers and Jesse Ventura — could have added a household name and perhaps a note of notoriety. But Rodgers, a former NFL Most Valuable Player, and Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler who served a term as Minnesota governor, both said they were never formally offered the job. It could be argued that Kennedy mentioned these men simply to draw attention to the campaign.

The person Kennedy chose seemed to bring little stature or visibility to his candidacy. Most of the immediate comments therefore focused on what she can presumably offer, namely money. Her former husband, Sergey Brin, is a co-founder of Google whose fortune is estimated at more than $100 billion. The settlement she received during the couple’s divorce has not been disclosed but is likely substantial.

And she will be allowed to spend as much money as she wants on the Kennedy-Shanahan ticket, because the Supreme Court has since 1976 considered personal spending on her own candidacy to be protected as “free speech” under the First Amendment.

Shanahan previously made headlines for financing a $4 million ad buy for Kennedy during this year’s Super Bowl broadcast. All presidential candidates need money for travel, staff and especially for advertising. Kennedy still needs money to fuel his voter access campaign, which so far has only registered him in Utah.

Yet until Shanahan can prove herself an asset in other ways, Kennedy will appear to have missed an opportunity to capture the imagination of the nation — or at least a significant portion of it.

Most independent or third-party presidential candidates end up having a minor – or even measurable – influence on the November results. But Kennedy, 70, is still a scion of America’s most famous political family and received as much as 13 percent of the vote in November in a recent Quinnipiac poll.

That doesn’t mean he could win the White House or win a single state. The last independent or third-party candidate to win a state was segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who won five in the Deep South in 1968. Another segregationist, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, won four states in 1948.

But Kennedy’s current vote share means he could influence the outcome in a few swing states and thus change the Electoral College outcome. Anyone who remembers the 2000 Florida recount knows that the votes cast in that state for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader could easily have tipped the scales in favor of Democratic candidate Al Gore.

And beyond all that, it’s 2024, and nothing about this cycle is normal. We have the two longest-running candidates in presidential history winning their nominations historically early, while more than 60% of all voters say they don’t want these two candidates as their choices in November. In theory, at least, Kennedy should be able to exploit these unusual circumstances.

So, some would argue that Kennedy’s overture required him to do more to improve his chances with his one vice presidential pick.

The nature of the work

All VPs play second fiddle to the top guy, because that’s the nature of the job. Article Two of the Constitution provided for the office primarily to ensure a smooth and immediate transition in the event of the death of a president, thereby avoiding any uncertainty regarding succession. However, this profession has always been cursed with a kind of ambivalent status. In the major parties, it has long been a ritual for presidential candidates to renounce any interest in being number 2.

This ambivalence must be even greater when it comes to third-party vice presidential candidates or independent candidates. After all, no independent or third-party candidate has ever won the presidency, which has remained the preserve of the two major parties since the 1790s – even as both parties have evolved, changing names and geographic bases.

Given this track record, operating as a third party or independent is more of a quest than a reasoned proposition. So being a vice presidential candidate brings a kind of double dose of humility. Such a candidate must always play Sancho Panza to someone else’s Don Quixote, riding the burrow alongside the questing knight.

Some of them had their own status, at least before accepting the role of vice president. Among them was Admiral James Stockdale, who was recruited by independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, when Perot was leading both incumbent President George HW Bush and his Democratic challenger Bill Clinton in the polls.

Stockdale had been a naval aviator during the Vietnam War, taken prisoner and held for years in North Vietnam. He enjoyed an excellent reputation as a military leader and scholar, but he was not an experienced politician or media artist. In his debate against Democratic and Republican vice-presidential candidates Al Gore and Dan Quayle, respectively, Stockdale’s amiable attempt at self-deprecation went awry. His introductory sentence “Who am I? What am I doing here?” appeared as a real confusion and was widely parodied. As unfair as it may seem, you only get one chance to make a first impression.


Admiral James Stockdale speaks after being introduced by Ross Perot (right) as his running mate in Dallas on October 2, 1992.

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Admiral James Stockdale speaks after being introduced by Ross Perot (right) as his running mate in Dallas on October 2, 1992.

Rick Bowmer/AP

In 1968, Wallace had chosen as his vice president General Curtis LeMay, former chief of staff of the United States Air Force and controversial architect of the World War II bombing campaigns. In 1948, Thurmond of South Carolina ran with Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright as No. 2.

Make your own brand

At least a few independent or third-party vice presidential candidates rose to prominence after this moment of national revelation. Perhaps the most formidable of these was Hiram Johnson, the young reformist governor of California who became Teddy Roosevelt’s political wingman in 1912.

Roosevelt, who served as president from 1901 to 1908, quickly lashed out at the man he had chosen to succeed him, William Howard Taft. But when Roosevelt challenged Taft for the next Republican nomination, he failed by a wide margin. So the indomitable Roosevelt ran as the Progressive Party candidate, appealing to Johnson to join him on what would be called the “Bull Moose ticket.”


Theodore Roosevelt-Hiram W. Johnson Progressive Party Certificate (Bull Moose). Photograph, 1912.

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That ticket won 27 percent of the vote in the fall in a four-way race, but only carried six states. This was enough to split the votes of the dominant Republican Party and hand the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

And it was one more state than James B. Weaver of the Populist People’s Party won as the third challenger to President Benjamin Harrison and former President Grover Cleveland in 1892. Weaver’s running mate, James G . Field, was a veteran of the Confederate army. officer and attorney general of Virginia.

Hiram Johnson was re-elected governor in 1914, moved to the Senate as a Progressive Republican two years later, and served there until his death in 1945. He was known as an ally of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and as a isolationist who opposed the entry of the United States into the world. wars, the League of Nations and the formation of the United Nations.

Another progressive hero who deeply doubted the European wars was Robert M. La Follette Sr., known as “Fighting Bob” in his home state of Wisconsin. La Follette was the Progressive Party candidate for president in 1924 and won his home state. His nomination convention was adjourned without choosing a vice-presidential candidate. He then offered the position to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who declined, and then to Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, who accepted.

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