Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—The Right's Trojan Horse
A look at who Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is and why the right-wing loves him.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s run in the 2024 Democatic presidential contest is a farce and an embarrassment to the legacy of the Kennedy name.
He is a right-wing reactionary wolf, touting unhinged conspiracies to conservative audiences in a Democratic sheep’s clothing.
And we should not be fooled.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the right boosting him—some on the left are as well. But we should all be working together to ensure his candidacy ends with a whimper, likely a speaking slot at next year’s CPAC and an analyst gig on Newsmax.
Looking at you, Tulsi Gabbard.
Kennedy’s bad faith run against Biden is the topic of today’s The Big Picture.
– George Takei
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Conservatives just can’t get enough of Robert F Kennedy Jr.—a Democratic candidate for 2024's presidential election. For them, he’s a political dream come true.
A Democrat from a longstanding liberal political dynasty taking on both the sitting Democratic President and years of liberal orthodoxy? It’s a perfect storm of own-the-libs schadenfreude and anti-left reactionary conspiracism.
And why a Super PAC supporting Kennedy has as its treasurer a strategist linked to Marjorie Taylor Greene among other MAGA faithful.
And why Tucker Carlson’s latest Twitter show declared:
“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Is Winning”
Spoiler Alert: He’s not.
As Dan Pfieffer put it in an essay on his Message Box Substack, Kennedy is:
“The belle of the MAGA ball.”
And the fondness appears to be mutual. Kennedy agreed to speak at a conference put on by Moms For Liberty, the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group that recently quoted Hitler in their newsletter.
Kennedy has also been a regular on right-wing media outlets including Newsmax, Fox, and The Daily Wire—which got pulled from YouTube for spreading anti-vaxx misinformation—to peddle his unhinged conspiracies.
Not Your Parents' Kennedy
A few of Kennedy’s greatest conspiratorial hits include:
Kennedy famously claimed autism is linked to vaccines, a claim widely debunked. He repeatedly invokes Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to describe vaccine mandates…and keeps apologizing for making such offensive and outlandish references.
Kennedy told Joe Rogan cellphones and WiFi radiation cause cancer, leading Rogan to hilariously declare with a straight face “we gotta get rid of WiFi!”
Kennedy recently told Newsmax’s Greta Van Susteren that China and the U.S. are developing “ethnic bioweapons” to target racial communities.
Kennedy told right-wing podcaster Jordan Peterson chemicals in water turn boys trans—like frogs!
He said AIDS was caused by gay men’s inhalation of poppers, not HIV—which he likens to a conspiracy by Dr. Fauci.
On one hand, the right’s fondness for Kennedy is akin to their embrace of conservative minorities, which they see as a big F-U to the left.
“Finally, a Democrat I can support!,” they declare, as though it somehow proves them not to be the extremists the left rightly paints them to be.
There is also a generous helping of Trump’s adage about the media: if the liberal media says something nice about him, it must be true! Likewise, if Robert F Kennedy Jr says something the right agrees with, it must be true because a liberal Democrat is saying it.
Of course, the notion that RFK Jr is a “liberal Democrat”—his environmental record and family legacy notwithstanding—is as laughable as Republicans claiming to be the party of “law and order”: simply a myth they tell themselves despite all evidence to the contrary.
Not So Strange Bedfellows
It’s no accident the right has found common cause with Kennedy. On a base political level, he represents their best chance to chip away at support of their rival Joe Biden ahead of the general election.
And ironically, one of the right’s common talking points to boost Kennedy is to shout from the rooftops about a couple of polls showing Kennedy garnering around 20% against Biden among Democratic voters.
Funny how conservatives sure seem to love polls again.
The right loves to tout this 20% number as evidence of Biden’s weakness as well as proof a more conservative candidate can gain purchase among Democratic voters.
But as with most rhetoric on the right, such a narrative is illusory.
What’s In A Name?
Let’s examine one such poll.
From May 16-20, a CNN/SSRS poll asked Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents which candidate they support in the 2024 Democratic primary.
The results were:
Joe Biden: 60%
Robert Kennedy, Jr: 20%
Marianne Williamson: 8%
Seems bad for Biden and surprisingly good for Kennedy, right?
Well, what these Kennedy boosters conveniently leave out is the obvious reason some respondents are giving for their support of Kennedy.
As Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight puts it:
"...it’s an illusion based on his last name."
"CNN/SSRS asked Democrats who said they would consider supporting Kennedy why they might do so, and a plurality (20 percent) said the Kennedy name and his family connections. An additional 10 percent said it was just because they were open-minded and would consider any candidate. Only 12 percent specifically pointed to his views and policies."
Another thing these Kennedy boosters conveniently leave out is how Kennedy is actually doing in polls since this poll was taken in mid-May.
The Trend Is Not Kennedy’s Friend
While Kennedy has consistently polled in the teens throughout the month of June, even keeping Biden to a 60-18 point lead in a Big Village poll taken June 9-14, the two most recent polls of the race show a diminished Kennedy and a resurgent Biden.
Not quite as impressive.
Notably, while the May CNN poll had Biden up 40%, these most recent polls have Biden up 59% and 58% over Kennedy respectively.
It should also be noted that FiveThirtyEight rates YouGov as a B+ poll and Emerson College an A-, based on their “historical accuracy and methodology.” Contrast that with CNN/SSRS’s C+ rating and Big Village’s B- rating.
This is just a snapshot in time, of course, but so was May 16-20. And if one were being honest about the Biden versus Kennedy trendline, one would have to conclude Biden is showing increasing strength against his challengers.
Or voters are finding out who RFK Jr. is—and isn't.
The right would never admit that, of course. Expect to keep hearing the “20%” number even as it disappears into the rearview mirror.
We can also expect the right to parrot RFK’s complaint the “corporate media” is ignoring his candidacy.
The reality is they’re not ignoring him. Quite the contrary. He may not like the coverage, but he is getting covered.
ABC News, for example, posted an article titled:
“Some experts fear rise in medical misinformation following RFK Jr.'s presidential announcement”
In it, Brian Castrucci, president of De Beaumont Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing public health policy, says the greatest harm Kennedy has caused throughout his career is to “make the benefits of vaccines a question up for debate rather than settled science."
And as for his 2024 campaign:
"His campaign would platform a set of dangerous beliefs with the possibility of not only harming the health of the public but the health of our communities and economy as well. We would have a candidate who each day would be spreading scientific misinformation and, in the process, legitimizing vaccine hesitancy and resistance."
CNN’s Jake Tapper put it even more bluntly when he explained to Pod Save America why he would never do a town hall with Kennedy.
“Because he spreads dangerous misinformation about childhood vaccines.”
And Tapper posted a fiery fact-check of Kennedy on CNN.com to rebut claims Kennedy made to Jordan Peterson about Tapper to "prove" mainstream media is silencing him.
After Kennedy penned an anti-vaccine—since debunked and deleted—piece for Salon.com and Rolling Stone in 2005, Tapper did an ABC News piece on Kennedy’s claims. Those are the only details Kennedy and Tapper agree on.
As Tapper noted:
"Now in his retelling, a two-minute piece was an 'incredible documentary,' a few days of work was three weeks, one remote interview was me working intensely with him, and a piece that got delayed one day so we could interview some actual experts is a piece that got killed."
“The truth about it is instructive because of how untethered he is to facts.”
Which tracks with LA Times columnist Robin Abcarian, who likens Kennedy’s run to:
“The second coming of Donald Trump.”
If he wants media coverage, he’s got it.
The problem for RFK Jr. is as one respondent in the May CNN poll explained his support for Kennedy:
“I liked his dad (RFK) and his uncle (JFK) a lot. I would hope he has a similar mindset.”
The more coverage he gets, the more voters are learning who he actually is, separate from his famous name. And Democratic voters are learning he in fact does not hold a “similar mindset” to his forebears.
Exposing The Real RFK Jr.
The Kennedys themselves have been raising the alarm about RFK Jr’s dangerous views for years.
In 2019, sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, nephew Joseph P. Kennedy II, and niece Maeve Kennedy McKean published a column in Politico titled:
"RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines."
In which his family accused him of being part of “a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking—and deadly—consequences.”
With his presidential campaign launch in April, other Kennedys have come out to express their support for President Joe Biden’s re-election, including sisters Rory and Kerry Kennedy. The latter, who runs the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, went so far as to distance the foundation from her brother’s campaign.
Kerry Kennedy stated:
“I love my brother Bobby, but I do not share or endorse his opinions on many issues, including the COVID pandemic, vaccinations, and the role of social media platforms in policing false information.”
So, are people getting the message?
It appears so.
Let’s look at those two most recent polls, Emerson and YouGov.
Emerson first polled this race April 24-25 shortly after Kennedy’s campaign launch. In that first poll, Biden bested Kennedy 70%-21%. Almost 2 months later, the latest Emerson poll dated June 19-20, finds Biden surging to 73%-15% against Kennedy.
Similarly, the initial YouGov poll of the race was from May 5-8, which found Biden ahead 67%-10%. They then polled it a second time from May 20-25, finding RFK rising a bit to 62%-12%. Now in their most recent poll, from June 16-20, YouGov finds Biden rising to 67%-8% against Kennedy.
These side-by-side comparisons show a promising trend for Biden and for our nation.
What Should Democracy Defenders Do?
But we must all do our part in exposing Kennedy’s 2024 Trojan horse run and who is actually supporting his candidacy.
We must not be fooled by conservatives’ claims of Kennedy’s “20%” against Biden, nor their complaints that the media is silencing him.
We must expose his lies and conspiracy theories at every turn.