Of Course the Right Has Welcomed RFK Jr. With Open Arms

Why did I spend the entire weekend reading about the dumbest member of the Kennedy family? Likely because Donald Trump’s death grip on the Republican Party is as strong as ever, indictments be damned. Like it or not—and most of us do not—Trump still leads his closest competitor, Ron DeSantis, “by at least 30 points in the three national polls conducted mostly or entirely after the news of the federal indictment broke.” Republicans appear stuck: Trump is increasingly looking like the eventual GOP presidential nominee, yet “56% of Americans think Trump should drop out of the 2024 presidential.” You can almost smell the panic.

Enter the spoiler candidate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Joe Biden’s long shot Democratic primary challenger who has recently been getting some high-profile support from figures associated with the right. Elon Musk hosted a Twitter Spaces for the raging anti-vaxxer, who not too long ago had to apologize for suggesting the plight of the unvaccinated in America was worse than that of Anne Frank’s. After Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and vaccine expert, tweeted critically about a Joe Rogan interview with Kennedy, both Musk and Rogan defended RFK Jr., taking aim at Hotez by suggesting he debate Kennedy’s claims on Rogan’s show. Wealthy Republican and DeSantis supporter David Sacks hosted a fundraiser for the guy. Former Twitter CEO and facial hair enthusiast Jack Dorsey endorsed him too. (Dorsey has a habit of embracing unelectable candidates: In 2019 he donated to both Andrew Yang and Fox News favorite Tulsi Gabbard.) Steve Bannon is apparently a huge RFK Jr. supporter, floating Kennedy as “an excellent choice for President Trump to consider” as a running mate. Roger Stone called a Trump-Kennedy ticket a “dream.” Infowars’ Alex Jones was struck by Kennedy’s anti-vaccine conspiracies and told listeners he was “definitely awake.” Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk and QAnon-linked Michael Flynn both said they like the guy as a presidential candidate too. So why are all these right-wingers supporting a Democrat? It could be that he kind of sounds like them: He talks about government institutions betraying the trust of the American public, and published a whole book attacking Anthony Fauci. But there’s also very likely another reason.

It seems important to mention here that Kennedy, to put it mildly, is a crank. As conservative Noah Rothman wrote in National Review, “Kennedy has promoted the view that the COVID vaccines were concocted only to enrich the medical establishment, that 5G cell towers are designed to ‘control our behavior,’ and that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is engaged in an effort to ‘genetically modify’ humanity.” He’s blamed mass shootings on antidepressants and told Musk and Sacks that his “position on gun control is I’m not going to take away anybody’s guns.” He believes Russia’s war against Ukraine is “a setup by the neocons and the CIA.” He wants to “seal the border permanently” and went on Jordan Peterson’s podcast to suggest he believes that kids are trans because they are “swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals.” I don’t know any mainstream Democrats who believe anything resembling this mélange of conspiracy theories. If you’re wondering what his family thinks about him, in 2019 his siblings and nephews wrote in Politico magazine, “We love Bobby. He is one of the great champions of the environment…. We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment. However, on vaccines he is wrong.”

For years RFK Jr. has lurked in the shadows as the anti-vaxxer Kennedy; now his politics not only have a base among the MAGA right—he’s proving politically expedient for Republicans as well.

In an April profile, reporter Brandy Zadrozny asks the nepo-candidate, “So why not run as a Republican?”

“Because I’m a Democrat,” he says. 

“But maybe you’re not?” I say.

Kennedy looks annoyed. He says the swell in right-wing support is evidence that not he, but his party, has changed.

It’s peculiar logic; shouldn’t having right-wing support indicate that he is in fact a right-winger—not that the right wing is the true Democratic Party? His campaign manager, former Ohio representative Dennis Kucinich, goes on to explain the fringe support as a feature, not a bug—if he can win all the people on the margins both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, maybe he can scrape something together, Kucinich suggests. Maybe not, but perhaps—as Republicans appear to be hoping for—he can spoil the race for Biden.

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