He Isn't Making the Cut: RFK Jr. Unlikely to Stand With Trump, Biden on Debate Stage

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

It's looking like independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (RFK Jr.) won't make the requirements set forth to qualify for the first presidential debate on June 27th.

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The independent candidate is determined to debate his Democratic and Republican rivals in Atlanta on June 27. But he’s running out of time to make the polling and delegate benchmarks that Biden and Trump have already surpassed before Thursday’s midnight deadline.

Failing to meet the eligibility criteria would be the first big blow for the third-party candidate struggling to remain relevant in the 2024 race.

“Though not impossible in Kennedy’s case, it is less likely that candidates other than Biden and Trump will meet those requirements,” CNN wrote in a memo over the weekend outlining logistics around opening statements and commercial breaks.

This would be a blow to Kennedy's rather quixotic campaign.

Presidential debates have always had the capability of being a game-changer, even though it doesn't always work out that way. Two times where it did, though, are within living memory, and both were during Ronald Reagan's two presidential campaigns; the first, during the debate with President Jimmy Carter, Reagan seized control of the conversation when he turned to Carter and said, "See, there you go again," and proceeded to deconstruct the president's argument. The second was the famous display of Reagan's vaunted sense of humor when in the 1984 campaign, a Baltimore Sun correspondent asked him about being the oldest president in U.S. history. Reagan's response was classic, and in that moment, when even Walter Mondale burst out laughing at Reagan's reply, he cinched his historic 49-state landslide re-election.

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Going on to quote Cicero (or Seneca) was just the icing on the cake.

Granted, there are not always such moments on these debate stages. But there is the potential for them, and if a candidate does not appear, there is no chance at all.

The conditions candidates are required to make the debate aren't easy for an independent:

CNN has not budged on their conditions. Candidates must still clear at least 15 percent of support in four polls and be viable on enough state ballots to earn 270 delegates to participate in the forum with moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

All candidates must meet the same conditions.


See Related: RFK Jr.'s Reaction to Trump Conviction? 'You Can't Save Democracy by Destroying It First'

Let the Games Begin: Rules Are Set for CNN's Upcoming Trump-Biden Debate


One Kennedy supporter spoke out on what alternatives are open to the candidate if the debate doesn't include him.

With less than a full day to make the 12 a.m. deadline, however, Kennedy can only do so much. Some figures willing to entertain parts of his nontraditional candidacy say he should maximize being away from the stage as a way to show off his position as an outsider. 

“I definitely think he should,” said Cenk Uygur, a left-wing media personality who’s met privately with Kennedy and recently hosted him on his program, “The Young Turks.”  

“It’s borderline cheating if they don’t allow him into the debates when he has been in double digits. What else does someone have to do to qualify?” Uygur said.

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It is not, of course, cheating, borderline, or anything else, so long as all candidates are required to meet the same criteria. The debate organizers do have something of a tightrope to walk, after all; the criteria cannot be so strict that one or both of the major-party candidates are excluded (much as some in the legacy media might like that), nor can they be so loose as to allow every gag candidate, huckster, bindlestiff and gandy dancer onto the stage.

RFK Jr. making the debate stage at this point looks unlikely in the extreme, and that may well spell the end of his campaign, even if he does continue his efforts on to election day.

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