Saunders: Border issue may be RFK Jr’s inroad to independents

If most voters want to sidestep a Biden-Trump rematch, Kennedy may make sense for many of them.

By Debra J. Saunders / Las Vegas Journal-Review

There’s a video that shows Robert F. Kennedy Jr., presidential candidate, walking in what looks like the California hills with his dog. The Democrat-turned-independent sees a rattlesnake on the ground, picks it up and holds the reptile in a straight line, his fingers strategically placed to avoid any venom.

The message Kennedy posted on Twitter: “This is how I’ll wrangle the snakes in DC come January 20, 2025. #Kennedy24.”

You can find a 19-minute video, “Midnight at the Border,” on Kennedy’s campaign website, that documents his recent overnight visit to the Yuma, Ariz., border. The video should give President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump night sweats.

Biden should be worried because Kennedy isn’t afraid to call the mess at the border a “dystopian nightmare” that puts migrants at risk and benefits “Mexican drug cartels.”

Trump should be afraid because Kennedy knows how to frame tougher border enforcement as a humanitarian issue, without the sort of race-baiting rhetoric — that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” — the former president is known for.

Kennedy’s optics are different than the usual campaign offerings. Kennedy isn’t speaking at huge rallies. There are no adoring crowds of enthusiastic voters. There was no entourage, not even Secret Service, thanks to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ finding that the Kennedy scion doesn’t rate.

Instead, Kennedy walks along the uncompleted border wall with Yuma County Supervisor Jonathan Lines, who schooled him on how partisan politics have led to rampant dysfunction.

And suffering. Lines pointed to the “Rape Tree” where women, girls and males reportedly are routinely are sexually assaulted.

Kennedy and Lines chatted with those lined up to cross into America. Kennedy and Lines asked in Spanish where they’re from.

Kennedy says he thought most migrants would be from Central America. Instead, he meets long-haul global travelers from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Peru and Colombia. Clearly they are not simply fleeing. They have been traveling to an intended destination.

“60 Minutes” aired a segment Sunday night about the fastest-growing group at the Southwest border: They’re from China, and they’re feeding money to an industry that exploits children and traffics dangerous drugs.

Only one individual, Kennedy offered, claimed to be seeking asylum. (Be it noted, only about 15 percent of those crossing illegally meet that standard, and hence are protected from deportation.)

We live in a time where far left and far right often find themselves in agreement. Kennedy’s skepticism about the government’s overzealous covid policies endeared him to many on the right.

With the immigration issue, Kennedy has found another cause to cross the partisan divide.

His secret weapon: He’ll challenge his birth party’s orthodoxies.

If 2024 presents a rerun of the 2020 Trump-Biden show, as conventional wisdom suggests, Kennedy could draw voters from both major parties; people who in a normal year would never think of voting for Kennedy, but would find themselves outraged that the world of politics couldn’t offer more than the choice Americans don’t want.

A Reuters poll last month found some 67 percent of respondents were “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new.” There’s a belief in politics that voters may flirt with third-party candidates, but in the end, they come home.

But what if they don’t want to? And there’s this new guy.

Email Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Debra J. Saunders at Follow her on X @debrajsaunders. Copyright 2024,

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