Longtime advocate for environmental causes and prominent anti-vaccine campaigner, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., announced on Monday that he intends to enter the presidential race as an independent candidate, effectively discontinuing his bid within the Democratic primary. This development adds an intriguing twist to the impending 2024 presidential contest, which is increasingly shaping up as a potential rematch between the incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Kennedy, a scion of one of the nation’s most iconic Democratic dynasties, had been pursuing a Democratic primary candidacy, albeit as a dark horse with limited prospects. Remarkably, he has garnered more favourable opinions among Republicans than within his own Democratic camp. The feasibility of his Republican support translating into a competitive showing in a general election, where he would face off against Trump, remains uncertain. Both the Biden and Trump camps have, at times, expressed concerns that Kennedy’s candidacy might disrupt their respective electoral strategies.
Thus far, Biden’s allies have largely downplayed Kennedy’s primary campaign as unserious. When questioned about the prospect of Kennedy’s independent run, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee responded with an eye-roll emoji.
In anticipation of Kennedy’s announcement on Monday, a multitude of his supporters convened at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, an apt setting for his campaign launch. Campaign signage hinted at a potential new slogan: “Declare your independence.”
Among Kennedy’s followers present were numerous individuals who do not align themselves with either the Democratic or Republican parties, viewing Kennedy as a truth-teller and a breath of fresh air in the political landscape.
“He tells it like it is,” remarked Julia Hill, a 23-year-old student from New Jersey. “He doesn’t sound like a typical politician.”
Others, including Brent Snyder, a disabled veteran from South Philadelphia, disclosed that they had previously voted for Trump but were now seeking a change.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed the Republican Party veering in a direction I do not endorse,” Snyder explained. “While I don’t agree with everything happening to Trump, I believe he currently carries more baggage than our country needs. The existing divisions are simply terrible. We require someone capable of bridging the gap and fostering cooperation.”
This announcement follows closely on the heels of progressive activist Cornel West’s decision to abandon his Green Party bid in favor of an independent presidential run. Concurrently, the centrist group No Labels is actively working to secure ballot access for an as-yet-unnamed candidate.
Kennedy has spent weeks alleging that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has manipulated the party’s primary process against him, even hinting at the possibility of exploring alternative options.
In his campaign communications, Kennedy vehemently criticized the DNC’s choice not to organize debates between Biden and other primary contenders. He also condemned the committee’s decision to grant South Carolina, rather than Iowa or New Hampshire, the inaugural position on the primary calendar for this election cycle.
“I’ll explore all possibilities if they obstruct me,” he declared in September during a barbecue event in New Hampshire hosted by former Republican Senator Scott Brown.
Notably, Kennedy has forged close associations with far-right personalities in recent years, despite his longstanding identification as a Democrat and frequent references to his late father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, during his campaign activities. He made appearances on a channel managed by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, known for promoting the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, and headlined an event on the ReAwaken America Tour, a Christian nationalist roadshow organized by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Polls reveal that Kennedy enjoys significantly more favorable opinions among Republicans than Democrats. He has also garnered support from certain far-right conservatives due to his unconventional stances, including his vocal skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines, despite scientific evidence supporting their safety and efficacy in preventing severe illness and death.
Kennedy’s anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense, is currently involved in a lawsuit against several news outlets, including The Associated Press, alleging antitrust violations related to their efforts to combat misinformation, particularly concerning COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines. Kennedy distanced himself from the organization upon announcing his presidential bid but remains listed as one of its attorneys in the lawsuit.