To RFK Jr., It’s Biden, Not Trump, Who’s the Greater Risk to Democracy

Former President Donald J. Trump has refused to just accept his loss within the 2020 election, painted as martyrs the supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, laid groundwork to disclaim the 2024 election outcomes if he loses, and mentioned he can be a dictator on his first day again in workplace if he wins.

However in keeping with the unbiased presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., it’s President Biden who poses the higher menace to American democracy — a view that Mr. Kennedy shares with Mr. Trump himself, and that democracy consultants known as “absurd” and “preposterous.”

Such a perspective is feasible as a result of Mr. Kennedy, who has based his political profession on selling vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories in regards to the authorities, sees the Biden administration’s efforts to curtail the unfold of misinformation as a seminal subject of our time. Censorship, as he calls it, overpowers all different issues in regards to the political system.

Mr. Kennedy’s stance drew recent scrutiny this week after he said in an interview on CNN, “President Biden is a much worse threat to democracy, and the reason for that is President Biden is the first candidate in history, the first president in history that has used the federal agencies to censor political speech, to censor his opponent.” He repeated himself on Fox Information on Tuesday, saying {that a} president like Mr. Biden was “a genuine threat to our democracy.”

The remarks by Mr. Kennedy, who carries the title but not the support of a storied Democratic household, had been an escalation of his assaults on Mr. Biden and the Democratic Celebration.

He has lengthy mentioned that the federal government’s engagement with media firms and tech platforms — to stop the unfold of disinformation or unlawful supplies or, in Mr. Kennedy’s case, the arguments he and his allies made in opposition to vaccines — quantities to unlawful censorship, an argument that was met with skepticism at the Supreme Court final month.

Within the CNN and Fox Information interviews, Mr. Kennedy — an environmental lawyer who till final fall was himself a Democrat — educated his outrage instantly on the Democratic Celebration’s chief, whose allies fear that Mr. Kennedy may tip a detailed election in November to Mr. Trump.

Democratic officers have devoted increasing resources to a multipronged effort to undermine Mr. Kennedy’s marketing campaign, fearing that his presence on swing-state ballots may siphon votes from Mr. Biden.

On the identical time, it stays unclear whether or not Mr. Kennedy — whose anti-establishment message has additionally made him common with some disaffected Republicans, independents and Libertarians — would draw extra votes from Mr. Biden than from Mr. Trump. A recent Fox News poll confirmed him drawing about equally from each candidates, and Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Kennedy last week as a “radical Left” candidate, in a possible signal of nervousness about his candidacy.

In marketing campaign appearances, Mr. Kennedy has typically drawn comparisons between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. Final week, when he announced his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, a Silicon Valley lawyer, Mr. Kennedy mentioned that to younger Individuals, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump “look like two sides of the same coin.”

However a number of students who’ve studied democratic governments and the methods they’ll backslide informed The New York Instances that it was nonsensical to counsel that social media moderation — which the Supreme Courtroom seemed inclined to uphold as a reputable purpose of presidency — posed a higher menace than what Mr. Trump has completed.

They pointed to his refusal to just accept an election loss, his stoking of political violence, and his efforts to consolidate govt energy and undermine public confidence in unbiased sources of data.

The 2 most basic tenets of democracy are that politicians “must always unambiguously accept the results of elections and must always unambiguously reject political violence,” mentioned Steven Levitsky, a professor of presidency at Harvard who co-wrote the ebook “How Democracies Die.” “I don’t think you’ll find a democracy expert in the world who will claim that the mild efforts to regulate social media in the United States are somehow equivalent or worse than an effort to overturn an election or the encouragement of political violence.”

Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard School, mentioned Mr. Kennedy had not solely downplayed Mr. Trump’s election denial — a menace that’s “fundamental” and “has to be recognized as such if democracy is going to work,” she mentioned — but additionally inflated Mr. Biden’s actions.

“If we had a president who was using federal agencies to chase down his opponents, to disadvantage them politically, to stop them from being able to speak to citizens and voters, that would be a major infringement of democratic norms,” Dr. Berman mentioned. “That’s not what Biden was doing.”

Within the CNN interview, Mr. Kennedy mentioned Mr. Trump’s try and overturn the 2020 election “clearly” was a menace, however added: “The greatest threat to democracy is not somebody who questions election returns, but a president of the United States who uses the power of his office to force a social media company — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — to open a portal and give access to that portal to the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the I.R.S., the CISA, the N.I.H., to censor his political critics.”

He then mentioned he was not making the argument he had simply made, however was merely saying it was an argument he may make.

He additionally didn’t present proof of any “portal” by way of which federal businesses can take away posts. Somewhat, he referred to a lawsuit he filed final yr alleging that, by threatening regulatory motion, the Biden administration had “induced” social media firms to limit speech — together with anti-vaccine misinformation — in methods the First Modification would prohibit the federal government from doing instantly.

A federal decide in February granted a preliminary injunction however stayed it till the Supreme Courtroom guidelines in a associated case, Murthy v. Missouri, with which Mr. Kennedy’s case was consolidated. Within the meantime, the Supreme Courtroom allowed the federal government, together with the F.B.I., to proceed contact with main social media firms — and in listening to the case final month, the justices appeared skeptical of the arguments in opposition to the federal government.

A lawyer for the federal government, Brian H. Fletcher, informed the courtroom that banning the regulation in query would itself prohibit speech, together with public feedback from a press secretary or different officers searching for to discourage posts which can be dangerous to youngsters, antisemitic or Islamophobic. He added that the social media firms had acted independently of the federal government and infrequently rejected requests to take down postings.

A senior adviser for the Democratic Nationwide Committee known as Mr. Kennedy’s feedback “MAGA talking points” that put to relaxation “any doubts that he’s a spoiler candidate.”

“With a straight face, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that Joe Biden is a bigger threat to democracy than Donald Trump because he was barred from pushing conspiracy theories online,” the adviser, Mary Beth Cahill, mentioned. “There is no comparison to summoning a mob to the Capitol and promising to be a dictator on Day 1.”

Within the CNN interview, Mr. Kennedy additionally mentioned falsely that Mr. Biden was “the first president in history to use his power over the Secret Service to deny Secret Service protection to one of his political opponents for political reasons,” referring to the federal government’s refusal to date to increase safety to Mr. Kennedy.

“Major” presidential candidates are eligible for Secret Service safety however will not be assured it. Whether or not to grant safety is as much as the secretary of homeland safety, in session with congressional leaders from each main events, and unbiased and third-party candidates are much less doubtless than Democrats and Republicans to obtain it.

In a fund-raising e mail on Tuesday morning, Mr. Kennedy’s marketing campaign reiterated its complaints in regards to the Biden administration and the Democratic Celebration, describing the get together as corrupt and attacking its escalating legal efforts to problem his poll entry and its refusal to permit a debate between Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Biden.

“The Democrat political machine is pulling out every trick in the book to stop our huge momentum,” the e-mail mentioned. “With endless resources, establishment Democrats want to stop a debate between Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Biden. They are using a vast network of shadowy dark money groups and vicious attorneys to keep Kennedy-Shanahan ticket off state ballots and spread malicious smears.”

Dr. Levitsky and Dr. Berman each famous that it was uncommon, in a democratic nation, for a politician to explicitly reject democratic norms. It’s extra widespread for them to attempt to create a cloud of doubt so voters battle to know what’s true.

“Those who engage in misinformation about democracy, those who muddy the waters about what is and isn’t democratic, are complicit in the assault on our democracy,” Dr. Levitsky mentioned. “The kind of behavior that sustains a democracy hasn’t changed over time.”