PHILADELPHIA — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday that he will run for president as an independent, abandoning his quest to challenge President that he would run as an independent rather than vie for the Green Party’s presidential nomination. He told CNN that seeking the Green Party nomination required too much internal party campaigning and that it was easier to obtain a place on the ballot in all 50 states as an independent.
Marianne Williamson, a self-help author and spiritual guru, remains in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. She has thus far failed to break through in polling.
Unlike Williamson, however, Kennedy and West could both siphon votes from Biden in a general election.
Kennedy has espoused conventionally liberal views on climate change, racial justice and the welfare state while also opposing the United States’ continued arming of Ukraine, the administration of a suite of vaccines whose risks he believes have been concealed by Big Pharma and the government, and the closures of schools and other public places for public health reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kennedy has also expressed more conservative views than Biden on the question of shutting down unauthorized entries at the U.S. border, gun rights, and parents’ role in decisions about their children’s gender transitions.
In his remarks on Monday, Kennedy argued that his experience as an environmental litigator would enable to more effectively dislodge entrenched corporate and military interests than former President Donald Trump and other self-styled outsiders that came before him.
“Unlike President Trump, I’ve been fighting corporate corruption and suing government agencies for 40 years. I know how they work. And I know how to clean them up,” Kennedy said. “And unlike any president since 1963, I will stand up to the military-industrial complex.”
“What really terrifies the elites though is not me, it’s what I represent: A populist movement that defies left-right divisions,” he added.
As a Democratic candidate, Kennedy received much more coverage — and favorable treatment — from right-wing media outlets than from mainstream or liberal outfits. It is unclear whether that will continue now that he is no longer challenging Biden in the Democratic primary.
The Republican National Committee wasted no time blasting Kennedy as a “typical elitist liberal” as Kennedy made the announcement Monday afternoon.
“Make no mistake ― a Democrat in Independent’s clothing is still a Democrat,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “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 typical elitist liberal and voters won’t be fooled.”
In a hypothetical general election matchup with both Biden and Trump, who is the polling leader in the GOP primary, Kennedy would receive 14% of the vote, pulling support from both major party candidates, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that came out Thursday.
Sure enough, the voters who came to hear Kennedy speak on Monday hailed from a range of ideological and partisan backgrounds, albeit with certain common concerns.
Many of the rally-goers were Democrats and former Democrats who share Kennedy’s deep skepticism of the government, the public health establishment, the military and intelligence agencies, and other institutions.
For some supporters in attendance, that skepticism extends to U.S. support for the Israeli government, though Kennedy himself is a staunch Israel supporter.
“I experience him as a truth teller. I don’t know if he’s making a political calculation here,” said Michael D.D. White, a lawyer from Brooklyn who has voted for Green Party candidates in the past.
When Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a friend of Kennedy’s and hawkish backer of Israeli policies, addressed the crowd before Kennedy, one rallygoer in Kennedy apparel yelled, “You’re a warmonger!” A woman also interjected, “Free Palestine!”
Still, most other attendees apparently lacked strong views on the topic. Kennedy supporters were instead more likely to say that the federal government’s response to COVID-19, whether closures of public spaces, or the encouragement ― and in some cases, requirement ― that Americans get vaccinated, had motivated them to seek alternatives to the two-party system.
Jerry Meddick and Fernanda Echeverria of nearby Mantua, New Jersey, began reading Kennedy’s work during the pandemic. Meddick, who works in sales, now sees Kennedy as a way to end the “corporate takeover” of government.
“We align with him about the ‘jab,’ as we call it, and the government actually looking down on people who didn’t get it,” Meddick said.
Meddick voted for Biden in 2020, because he disliked Trump’s environmental policies, but he now says that he would vote for Trump if Kennedy were not running.
Biden is “just a chess piece,” Meddick said. “He makes no decisions on his own that I can see.”
Jim Freeman, a schoolteacher from the Atlanta area, flew into the rally with his daughter Rachel, who is also a schoolteacher. Together they met up with their son and brother, Jeremy, a teacher and psychotherapist in New York’s Hudson Valley region.
Since then-President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, “the Kennedys have had a special place in my heart,” said Jim, who grew up in Dallas.
He believes that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can bridge the partisan divide and restore an era where there was a clearer “common denominator” in U.S. politics.
Jim and Rachel both voted for Biden in 2020 and would never consider voting for Trump, but neither of them were concerned that Kennedy would serve as a spoiler that could send Trump to the White House.
“I want to vote for someone I believe in, not just the one I like less,” Rachel said.