DANIEL VAUGHAN: How Close Is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. To Making The Debate Stage? Closer Than You Think

 May 17, 2024

It's official: We're getting Presidential debates. After spending months dodging the question, President Biden pulled out of the Commission on Presidential Debates and then declared he wanted to debate Trump. He released a brief video requiring multiple editing jobs to convey that point, but it still stood. Trump quickly agreed, too. One person was left out: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The funny part is that according to the "rules" CNN put out about this first debate, RFK Jr. can potentially make the stage. According to the CNN press release, to get on stage, a person must "receive at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet CNN's standards for reporting."

What are CNN's standards for reporting (stop laughing), you ask? They helpfully define that for us. "Polls that meet CNN editorial standards and will be considered qualifying polls include those sponsored by: CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, Marquette University Law School, Monmouth University, NBC News, the New York Times/Siena College, NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College, Quinnipiac University, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post."

It's a long list but easy to verify. CNN also says, "The polling window to determine eligibility for the debate opened March 13, 2024, and closes seven days before the date of the debate."

So, we need survey results from one of the pollsters referenced above in a polling window starting March 13, 2024. Fortunately for us, RealClearPolitics keeps a repository of all the five-way polls, including RFK Jr. We can check this right now.

First up (again, don't laugh), CNN released a poll covering April 18-23, 2024. CNN said, "Among all voters, when independent candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included in the matchup, Trump holds 42% to Biden's 33%, with Kennedy at 16%, West at 4%, and Stein at 3%."

That's one poll.

Second, Quinnipiac released a poll covering almost the same period from April 18-22, 2024. Quinnipiac said, "When the matchup is expanded to include independent and Green Party candidates, the race is still a dead heat, with Biden receiving 37 percent support, Trump receiving 37 percent support, independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. receiving 16 percent support, Green Party candidate Jill Stein receiving 3 percent support, and independent candidate Cornel West receiving 3 percent support."

That's two polls.

Third, there's Monmouth University. They released a poll on April 29, 2024, where Kennedy was polling at 18% across the electorate with all potential Kennedy voters.

That's three polls under CNN's rules.

We're three-fourths of the way there, and CNN announced the rules this week. Interestingly enough, there are two other polls in which Kennedy hits the threshold. Harvard University with Harris released a poll in April in which Kennedy hits 15%. Harvard had Kennedy hitting the threshold in March, too. CNN is counting neither of these. A recent Marist poll had Kennedy at 14%, which is close, but no cigar under these rules.

There are plenty of other polls showing Kennedy in double digits. In short, he could hit this threshold. He's already done it three times. Will any pollster be brave enough to release a result showing Kennedy at these numbers?

To his credit, Kennedy's campaign is claiming they will hit this threshold. In the RealClearPolitics average, Kennedy is sitting at 10.8 points in the average. All he needs is one of his better polls, which include several on CNN's approved list, to over-perform, and he's in under these rules.

Will CNN let him in? That's the more complicated question. The Washington Post claims a CNN producer promised a Trump official, "RFK will not be on the stage."

What would happen if they did? Axios got a Biden advisor on the record saying, "Our criteria for a 1:1 debate was made clear publicly, it was made clear to CNN and they understood our position when we accepted their offer." You might say the White House wouldn't be thrilled.

Let's say Kennedy gets a poll where he hits the threshold. If CNN denies him the stage, he should sue. It's like every other ballot hurdle he's having to deal with. A quick injunction case would solve this issue. CNN could try to disqualify him by chucking one of the polls.

But at the very least, Kennedy should pressure CNN to deny him. If he gets on the stage, Kennedy should pressure Biden and Trump. In truth, the pressure will be hard on Biden because it's perceived that Kennedy takes more from Biden than Trump. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump is leading that, too.

Biden and enablers in the press have a quandary on their table. They claim to stand for democracy. And yet, here's a candidate hitting the bar they've set up for candidates. Americans are saying they have some level of liking towards Kennedy. Are the defenders of democracy going to deny democracy a chance to thrive?

They sound like it. Kennedy should be on the stage. In my book, he's already met the polling qualifications. I don't see a need to disqualify Harvard's polls. According to CNN, he just needs one more poll. Let's see if he hits it and drives the leaders in the press and the Democratic Party insane.

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