The Morning

May 14, 2024

Good morning. We’re explaining R.F.K. Jr.’s support — and also covering Michael Cohen, climate change and British butlers.

A blurred image of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaking into a microphone.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Jordan Vonderhaar for The New York Times

R.F.K. Jr. and the Scaffles

George Wallace, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and now perhaps Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

With the support of about 10 percent of likely voters, Kennedy has a chance to join the list of third-party candidates who have influenced modern presidential elections. Consider the latest Times poll:

A chart shows whom likely voters across six battleground states would vote for if the presidential election were held today. R.F.K. Jr. has 9 percent of the vote, Joe Biden has 36 percent, Donald Trump has 42 percent, another candidate has 3 percent and 11 percent said they didn’t know or would not vote.
Figures are rounded. | Based on New York Times/Philadelphia Inquirer/Siena College polls conducted from April 28 to May 9, 2024.

In today’s newsletter, we’ll offer a primer on Kennedy’s candidacy — who he is, which voters support him, how his level of support is likely to change and what he’s emphasizing in his speeches and ads.

Who is he?

He is the third of 11 children of Robert F. Kennedy — the former attorney general, senator and presidential candidate — and Ethel Kennedy. He was 6 years old when his uncle was elected president and 14 years old when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated his father because of his father’s support for Israel during its 1967 war.

President John F. Kennedy Jr. sitting and smiling in the Oval Office as his young nephew Robert F. Kennedy Jr. looks at his desk and smiles. The boy is wearing a suit with shorts.
President John F. Kennedy Jr. with his nephew Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the Oval Office. Corbis, via Getty Images

R.F.K. Jr., who’s now 70, has never run for office before. He spent his early career as an environmental advocate and lawyer. He fought for clean water and renewable energy and opposed coal, factory farms and pollution in heavily Black and Native American communities.

In recent decades, he has focused much of his attention on spreading false, conspiratorial ideas. After the 2004 election, he suggested that George W. Bush had stolen victory from John Kerry. Kennedy has claimed that vaccines cause autism, that H.I.V. may not cause AIDS and that Covid vaccines are a dangerous corporate plot.

What is he saying now?

His anti-vaccine views are his best-known position, but our colleague Jess Bidgood points out that Kennedy’s overall campaign is more traditionally populist. Ben Tulchin, a former pollster for Bernie Sanders, has noted the similarity between Kennedy’s and Sanders’s messages.

“We are no longer living in a democracy,” Kennedy has said. “We’re living in a corporate kleptocracy.” He has criticized wealth inequality, praised labor unions and called for a higher minimum wage, free day care, stronger border security, tougher corporate regulation and tax increases on the rich.

His foreign policy views lean toward isolationism. He describes Democrats and Republicans as warmongers and promises to keep the country “out of foreign conflicts.” He says President Biden has been too aggressive in confronting Russia and calls for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine. He supports Israel’s right to defend itself after the Oct. 7 attacks and has said Hamas “must be destroyed.”

His views on other issues are a mix of liberal and conservative, and he says those labels aren’t useful anymore. He says abortion should be legal early in pregnancy and restricted later. He favors marijuana legalization. He has promised not to take away people’s guns. He questions medical treatments for trans children.

Regular readers of this newsletter know that the American public leans to the left on many economic issues and to the right on many social issues. We’ve called it the Scaffle vote (for socially conservative and fiscally liberal). R.F.K. Jr.’s platform may not be wholly consistent, but he is mostly a Scaffle.

Who supports him?

The people who say they plan to vote for R.F.K. Jr. are not vastly different from Americans as a whole. But there are some differences, says Ruth Igielnik, a polling expert at The Times.

His fans skew young: About 17 percent of likely voters younger than 30 backed him in our recent poll of swing states. His supporters are less likely to have a college degree than the electorate as a whole and are more likely to make less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to be Latino. None of this should be surprising: Working-class and Latino Americans are often Scaffles.

Supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, at a rally. Many are holding signs with the candidates’ names.
Kennedy supporters in the crowd. Jordan Vonderhaar for The New York Times

“I’m just not seeing much change,” Chantel Turk, 33, a dance studio owner in Marietta, Ga., and a Kennedy supporter, told The Times. “I haven’t seen change since I started voting, so I’m losing faith in the system.”

For now, R.F.K. Jr. seems to be hurting Biden more than he’s hurting Donald Trump — but only modestly more. About 32 percent of R.F.K. Jr.’s supporters said they had voted for Biden in 2020, while 24 percent voted for Trump. Most of his remaining supporters didn’t vote four years ago.

What now?

Support for third-party candidates usually declines during a campaign. It happened to Wallace in 1968, Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000.

Why? Some voters signal their unhappiness with the major-party candidates by telling pollsters they plan to vote for a third party, Ruth explains, but ultimately choose the Democrat or Republican they prefer. If this year’s campaign follows historical patterns, R.F.K. Jr.’s level of support is likely to decline by at least half (and he may not get onto the ballot in every state).

“But we should also take the lesson that less is not none,” Ruth says. In 2000, Nader, who received less than 3 percent of the popular vote, likely cost Al Gore the election. In 2016, the combined support for third-party candidates was larger than Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in six swing states.

For more


Trump on Trial

Michael Cohen, in profile.
Michael Cohen  Mike Segar/Reuters
  • The lawyer Michael Cohen testified at Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial that Trump directed him to pay Stormy Daniels hush money before the 2016 election and approved the plan to reimburse Cohen for it.
  • Trump believed that Daniels’s story of a tryst would be “a disaster for the campaign” and wanted it buried, Cohen testified. “Women are going to hate me,” Cohen recalled Trump saying. “Just take care of it.”
  • Cohen’s testimony is crucial to the prosecution’s case that Trump ordered the payment to win the election, not for personal reasons. Trump, Cohen said, “wasn’t thinking about Melania.”
  • Cohen looked gaunt but seemed calm, speaking smoothly and carefully. Trump sat with his eyes closed for much of the testimony but at times smirked, scoffed or shook his head.
  • Senator J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican and potential Trump running mate, was in the courtroom yesterday. Eric Trump, sitting behind his father, glared at Cohen as he testified.

China Policy

2024 Elections

  • Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who was on duty during the Jan. 6 riot, is running for a U.S. House seat in today’s Maryland Democratic primary.
  • Voters in Nebraska and West Virginia will also cast primary ballots today. Read what to watch for.

Israel-Hamas War

War in Ukraine

Climate Change

A chart shows the declining profitability of homeowners insurance in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Arkansas and Kentucky. Insurers are losing money, even in states that were once considered low-risk.
Source: AM Best | By Mira Rojanasakul

Business and Economy

Other Big Stories

  • A pediatrician who led a British review of youth gender treatments said that U.S. doctors were out of step with scientific evidence and too encouraging of the treatments — based on a fear of upsetting political progressives.
  • Melinda French Gates will resign from the foundation she started with her ex-husband, Bill Gates, but said she would continue her philanthropic work.


Biden alienates swing voters when he panders to the left on Israel, immigration and electric vehicles, Mark Penn writes.

Here are columns by Michelle Goldberg on “vice signaling” and Paul Krugman on Biden’s unpopularity.

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A white dog with puffy fur stands at attention while a hand reaches over and pitches the fur under its chin.
A champion bichon frisé. Jonah Rosenberg for The New York Times

Good dogs: See behind-the-scenes photos from this year’s Westminster dog show.

Your Money: This week, our personal finance columnist is helping 20-somethings sort out their finances.

Lives Lived: The civil rights expert Christopher Edley Jr. advised three Democratic presidents and six presidential campaigns. He died at 71.


N.B.A.: The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 to tie their series at 2-2. And the Boston Celtics won their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to take a 3-1 series lead.

N.H.L.: The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New York Rangers to force a Game 6. And the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers.

W.N.B.A.: The season starts tonight. People are watching Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever.


A butler stands outside a stately residence covered in wisteria. He has a white cloth draped over his arm.
Graeme Currie, a butler in Staffordshire, England.  Billy Barraclough for The New York Times

Britain’s butlers are changing. These days, buttling (yes, that’s a verb) is less about looking after a mansion and polishing silver and more about lifestyle management — akin to a private maître d’, one expert explained. If a client wants to eat dinner on a mountaintop, it’s the butler’s job to arrange the meal and the helicopter to get it there. And if a client wants donkeys for a Christmas Nativity scene, the butler will wrangle them. (Both are real examples from a new story by Plum Sykes in The Times.)

More on culture

An animated illustration shows honking cars, an ambulance with lights flashing, cyclists and pedestrians competing for space on a New York City street.
Leon Edler for The New York Times
  • There’s a battle over New York City’s streets: Cars, pedestrians, e-bikes and dining sheds are competing for space on a grid designed over two centuries ago.
  • George Clooney will make his Broadway debut in a stage adaptation of his 2005 film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” about the pioneering newscaster Edward R. Murrow.
  • Four subway stations will sell a limited-edition MetroCard featuring the New York rapper Ice Spice, Time Out reports.
  • Trump mentioned “Silence of the Lambs” character Hannibal Lecter at a rally. “Please tell me this is not your V.P. announcement,” Seth Meyers said on his late night show.


A cast-iron skillet holds creamy spicy tomato beans and greens. Toasted slices of bread are on a small dish nearby.
Kelly Marshall for The New York Times

Turn a modest can of beans into a creamy, spicy tomato dish.

Relieve discomfort from muscle knots.

Game with a better keyboard.


Here is today’s Spelling Bee. Yesterday’s pangram was cornily.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle, Sudoku, Connections and Strands.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David and Ian

P.S. Around the world and inside The Times: Nicholas Kristof, the longtime columnist and correspondent, has published a memoir today. It’s called “Chasing Hope.”

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