Republicans launched an attack on Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Monday as the prominent environmental attorney and anti-vaccine activist officially announced his independent bid for the White House. This move has stirred concerns among conservatives that Kennedy, a former Democrat, could siphon votes away from former President Donald Trump in the 2024 election.
The Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign wasted no time in critiquing Kennedy’s liberal background. Meanwhile, national Democrats remained silent on the matter as Kennedy made it clear in a speech in Philadelphia that he was distancing himself from both political parties.
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung issued a statement cautioning voters not to be misled by those who feign conservative values. Cheung described Kennedy’s campaign as a “vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”
This strong reaction highlights the uncertainty surrounding Kennedy’s much-anticipated decision to run as an independent. While it is likely to impact the 2024 race, which is shaping up to be a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden, the exact implications remain unclear.
Kennedy, a member of one of the most renowned families in Democratic politics, initially pursued an improbable primary bid and surprisingly held more favorability among Republicans than Democrats. Even Trump himself had expressed his positive opinion of Kennedy just two weeks prior, stating, “I like him a lot. I’ve known him for a long time.”
Both Biden and Trump’s allies had, at times, questioned whether Kennedy would act as a spoiler against their respective candidates. Kennedy acknowledged both sides’ concerns, stating, “The truth is, they’re both right. My intention is to spoil it for both of them.”
Speaking from Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, where America’s founding documents were adopted, Kennedy emphasized his desire to distance himself from either political party. He spoke of a “rising tide of discontent” in the nation and expressed his aim to make a “new declaration of independence” from corporations, the media, and the two major political parties.
Hundreds of supporters, holding signs with slogans like “Declare your independence,” and chanting “RFK, all the way!” were enthusiastic about his decision. His supporters comprised a diverse mix of disillusioned Democrats, Trump voters seeking change, and political outsiders whose beliefs did not align with any single party. They believed that Kennedy could bring them together.
Peter Pantazis, a 40-year-old business owner from Delaware, expressed his optimism, saying, “He’s going to win. I’ve been praying that he’s going to decentralize the campaign, get away from the party system, and actually be the candidate of the people for the people. And that’s what he announced today.”
Brent Snyder, a disabled veteran from south Philadelphia, stated, “The last couple of years I’ve been noticing the Republican Party’s been going a way I didn’t like. Not that I agree with everything that’s happening to Trump, but I think right now he has more baggage than his country needs. The division right now is just terrible. We need someone to bring both sides together to make us work.”
The atmosphere among the crowd was filled with joy, hope, and occasionally, the faint scent of marijuana. Kennedy invoked historical figures like John Adams and George Washington to make a case for unity and warned against the pitfalls of partisan politics.
However, Kennedy’s independent campaign faces significant challenges in competing with the well-funded, experienced campaigns of Trump and Biden. During his announcement, there was a brief delay when he found that his speech was loaded upside-down in the teleprompter.
Kennedy’s decision to run independently comes shortly after progressive activist Cornel West abandoned his Green Party bid in favor of an independent presidential run. Additionally, the centrist group No Labels is actively working to secure ballot access for an unnamed candidate.
Recognizing the risk that Kennedy might draw votes away from Republicans, Trump’s allies have begun circulating opposition research aimed at undermining his support among conservative voters. The Republican National Committee released a fact sheet titled “Radical DEMOCRAT RFK Jr.” that highlighted instances of Kennedy’s support for liberal politicians and ideas, as well as his endorsement of conspiracy theories related to COVID-19 and past election claims.
On the other hand, Biden’s allies have largely dismissed Kennedy’s primary campaign as unserious. When asked for comment before the announcement, a Democratic National Committee spokesman responded with an eye-roll emoji. The DNC declined to comment on Monday.
Four of Kennedy’s eight surviving siblings issued a joint statement denouncing his candidacy, expressing concern about the potential harm it could cause to the country. They emphasized that while Bobby shares their family name, his values, vision, and judgment differ significantly from theirs.
Tony Lyons, co-founder and co-chairman of American Values 2024, a super PAC supporting Kennedy, dismissed these comments as part of a strategy to discredit him. He pointed out that disagreements within families are a natural part of democracy.
While Kennedy has historically identified as a Democrat and often invoked the legacies of his late father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, on the campaign trail, he has also developed relationships with far-right figures in recent years. He appeared on a channel associated with Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and headlined an event on the ReAwaken America Tour, organized by Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Polls indicate that Kennedy is more favorably viewed by Republicans than Democrats. Some far-right conservatives have supported him for his fringe views, including his vocal distrust of COVID-19 vaccines, despite scientific evidence demonstrating their safety and effectiveness in preventing severe disease and death.
Kennedy’s anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense, is currently involved in a lawsuit against several news organizations, including The Associated Press, alleging antitrust violations related to their actions in countering misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Kennedy had temporarily stepped away from the group upon announcing his presidential run, but he is listed as one of its attorneys in the lawsuit.