Joe Biden could benefit from a third-party RFK Jr. run. (Photo by Saul Loeb / AFP)

Today in The Free Press: Nate Silver and James Carville

The polling guru on why RFK Jr.’s independent run isn’t necessarily bad for Biden. Plus, the Ragin’ Cajun on Honestly.

Today in The Free Press, we’re thrilled to bring you a double serving of 2024 coverage, courtesy of two rare voices who look at polling data and tell it like it is. 

The first is polling guru Nate Silver, arguably the person the country has looked to more than anyone else to make sense of recent elections. Nate offers the counterintuitive argument that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s third-party switch isn’t the bad news for Biden that some have made it out to be—and may even boost his reelection chances: 

It’s been an interesting experience getting my feet wet on Substack. The platform really does seem to attract a more politically diverse audience than my old stomping grounds at FiveThirtyEight

I’m sure I won’t agree with every Free Press reader on everything, and vice versa. (The same is true at my Substack Silver Bulletin, frankly.) But one thing I do share with readers of both is a skepticism of mainstream media narratives. Although campaign coverage is much improved from the Boys on the Bus days of a generation ago, politics still begets its share of evidence-free groupthink.

Today’s case in point: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. inching closer to a third-party bid. Media coverage has focused on the downside risks for Democrats. A recent New York Times story, for instance, is full of fretting Biden backers.

One person quoted in that story, centrist Democrat Matt Bennett, is overconfident when he says a Kennedy run would “almost certainly” hurt President Biden. I think the evidence is much less clear, and if anything points the other way: toward a Kennedy bid being a boost for Biden. 

Keep reading Nate’s piece: Why RFK Jr. Probably Doesn’t Hurt Biden

So why is RFK Jr. polling so highly? When Bari sat down with James Carville recently in Austin, that’s one of the questions she asked the straight-talking political veteran, and maybe the country’s best-known Democratic consultant. Simple, Carville said: “Because he’s not Biden!” 

When we asked him whether he agreed with the 73 percent of voters who think Biden is too old to run for president, he had this to say: 

According to the Census Bureau, there are 333,495,611 people currently living in the United States. I think we could find two under 75 to run for president. There’s a lot of things I like about Biden. He’s tenacious. He’s been in politics. He’s been beat up. He survived. He’s come back. But I wish he wouldn’t do this. I think the country is bursting at the seams to get a new generation in there. I think right now, this country is in a period where sometimes you got to give other people a shot at this. We’ve got talent just screaming all over the Democratic Party. And I’d like to see some of it get showcased.

That’s one of a dozen hot takes he offers in today’s episode of Honestly. Stay till the end, where he talks about being in a politically mixed marriage with Mary Matalin and shares what he thinks is his beloved wife’s worst opinion. 

Listen here:

In related political news we’re following: 

→ Republican wishcasting: Establishment Republicans are busy trying to draft someone, anyone, who can stand up to Trump. And all eyes are on a tall man in a red fleece vest from Virginia. Will Governor Glenn Youngkin actually get in the race and battle Trump head-on? In The Washington Post, Bob Costa reports that Youngkin, “while listening to overtures, does not seem particularly keen to take such a risk.”

→ Democratic wishcasting: When Senator Dianne Feinstein died in office last week at age 90, a fantasy plan was supposed to unfold: Governor Gavin Newsom, who promised to appoint a black woman to her seat, would pick current VP Kamala Harris, thus freeing up the spot for a more popular Democrat—maybe Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer or perhaps even himself—to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office and the best positioned candidate should Biden choose not to run.

Alas, this West Wing fan-fiction version of events was not to be. Newsom has picked Laphonza Butler, a former union leader and president of Emily’s List, an organization that helps raise money for pro-choice Democratic women running for office. 

Still, many Democrats insist that Gavin with the good hair is nevertheless waiting for the perfect moment to swoop in. Newsom seems to enjoy the limelight (he showed up at the GOP debate in Simi Valley last week), and a series of recent moves suggests a pivot to the center consistent with presidential ambitions.

McCarthy out: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted on Tuesday and soon after said that he would not seek the speakership again. Tuesday’s “motion to vacate” vote makes McCarthy the first speaker of the House to be booted out in U.S. history. 

Exactly why the Republican troublemakers, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, felt they had to take such drastic action isn’t immediately obvious, although McCarthy suggested it was personal in an understandably salty press conference last night. But hey, maybe it’s time for another Floridian with a chip on his shoulder to be drafted as speaker. 

→ Why is the RNC scared of debate? The Republican National Committee had to swoop in to avoid something unconscionable happening yesterday: a debate between two Republican presidential candidates. Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie were lined up to debate one another on Fox News Tuesday evening, but thankfully the powers that be put a stop to this wildcat exchange of ideas by threatening to bar the candidates from the next official debate in Miami next month. God forbid the RNC lose its precious monopoly on primary debates, which it is making such good use of.

We are 397 days away from the 2024 election and well, we find ourselves praying for that giant meteor to run again

But until it arrives, we’ll be here: your home for the politically exhausted, for the moderate majority, for the people who wish there were better options. 

As 2024 heats up, we’d love to hear from you. What would you like from our coverage? What stories do you feel aren’t getting enough attention? Where should we be sending reporters? Let us know in the comments or by writing to us:

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