Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., billed the Philadelphia launch of his independent candidacy as “an address to the nation”, but the presidential hopeful went unseen or was or barely glimpsed in Monday telecasts, as news coverage zeroed in on Hamas’ assault or Israeli settlements and military posts bordering the Gaza Strip.
Bobby Jr., is, however, a person who can strut sitting down, and will seize on any vehicle – anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories, picketing by striking workers, opposition to the U.S. aiding Ukraine – to thrust himself into the public limelight. He has skin in the 2024 game, the White House but also higher lecture fees.
He also has American Values 2024, a PAC that has raised $28 million and begins the independent bid with $11.28 million in the bank. The PAC has a big Mellon contributor and is courting Elon Musk. But Kennedy’s poll ratings, once fourteen percent when running as a Democrat, have fallen as voters become aware of his embrace of conspiracy theories and flirtation with the extreme right.
The Republicans are worried, as well they might be.
The reliable Quinnipiac Poll asked voters’ views of Kennedy. Forty-eight percent of Republicans gave him a thumbs-up while eighteen percent disapproved.
Just fourteen percent of Democrats approved of RFK, Jr., while fifty-seven percent gave him thumbs down. Independents were split, thirty-six percent approving and thirty-seven percent disapproving.
A quarter of the electorate don’t know Kennedy. The Trump campaign, which feasts on conspiracy theories, moved immediately to address the threat.
“Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.
Republican National Committee Chairman Rona McDaniel opined: “Make no mistake: A Democrat in independent’s clothing is still a Democrat. RFK, Jr., cannot hide from his record of endorsing Hillary, supporting the Green New Deal, fighting against the Keystone Pipeline and praising AOC’s tax hikes – he is your traditional elitist liberal and voters will not be fooled.”
True, once upon a time Bobby was being arrested outside the White House in a demonstration against the Keystone Pipeline.
Lately, however, we’ve seen him fueling a conspiracy theory that Bill Gates somehow was involved spreading the coronavirus.
Bobby showed up in Olympia as anti-vaxxer Republicans’ chief witness when Washington legislators took up (and later enacted) legislation strengthening vaccination requirements for children in our state’s public schools. (Bobby was kicked off Instagram in 2021 for spreading misinformation about vaccines.)
Democrats, however, have reasons to worry as well.
The Green Party candidacy of Ralph Nader almost certainly helped flip the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. Remember, Nader took 100,000 ballots in Florida while Al Gore lost the Sunshine State by just 500 votes.
Nader campaigned almost entirely in “blue” states, including Washington and Oregon. I interviewed him on an October swing through the Northwest. He railed against the Clinton Administration, debunked Gore’s environmental credentials, while uttering hardly a word critical of Bush.
Four of Bobby’s siblings – Rory, Kerry, and Joseph P. Kennedy II plus Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – denounced his candidacy in a statement Monday. “Bobby might share the same name as our father,” they wrote, “but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.”
Jack Schlossberg, grandson of President John F. Kennedy, filmed a video denouncing his cousin for “trading on Camelot, conspiracy theories and conflict for personal fame and gain.”
“I know him, I have no idea why anyone thinks he should be president,” Schlossberg added. “What I do know is his candidacy is an embarrassment. Let’s not be distracted by somebody’s vanity project.”
Kennedy faces a daunting challenged trying to get on the ballot in even half of the fifty states. Expect that he will direct fire at the Democratic National Committee, and not at the Trump campaign. Expect selective coverage by Fox News, which will select clips of Bobby denouncing the Democrats.
In 2000, some Northwest Democrats – including a Seattle City Council member – flirted with Nader before returning, late in the game, to Gore.
The damage? Gore had to expend resources in our region which should have gone to Ohio, a state he narrowly lost.
Schlossberg put it best: “Joe Biden shares my grandfather’s vision of America, that we do things not because they are easy but because they are hard.”
Progressives face a hard task turning back a MAGA movement built on conspiracy theories, lies, and demagoguery, all of which is broadcast on right-wing media and underwritten by wealthy donors. Nothing less than the freedom of our republic is at stake. This is no time to indulge Bobby’s lecture fees.