Robert F. Kennedy Jr. launches unlikely presidential bid as a Democrat

The anti-vaccine activist launched his bid in Boston.

April 20, 2023, 10:44 AM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist, announced Wednesday that he's running for president in 2024 as a Democrat.

The son of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, the 69-year-old attorney launched his candidacy in an overflowing ballroom at Boston Park Plaza, delivering a nearly two-hour speech that depicted a decaying and divided country in need of a unifier from one of the country's most prominent political families.

"I've come here today to announce my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States," he said, noting that the aim of his campaign, and presidency, would be to "end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power."

PHOTO: In this Nov. 15, 2019 file photo Robert Kennedy seen in Washington, D.C.
In this Nov. 15, 2019 file photo Robert Kennedy seen in Washington, D.C.
John Lamparski/Getty Images, FILE

Kennedy, who has espoused vaccine hesitancy since the 2000s, has become one of the most prominent voices in the anti-vaccine movement as the founder of Children's Health Defense, a nonprofit organization known mainly for its anti-vaccine efforts.

Kennedy, a self-described "lifelong Democrat" through his support of what critics call conspiracies about the COVID-19 vaccines, has garnered support from some unlikely bedfellows on the right.

"RFK Jr. could jump into the Republican primary for president, and only [Ron] DeSantis and [former President Donald] Trump, I think, would do better," former Trump adviser Steve Bannon recently said on MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's streaming program, "Lindell TV."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden at Farmleigh House, in Dublin, April 13, 2023.
President Joe Biden at Farmleigh House, in Dublin, April 13, 2023.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE

During his announcement, Kennedy tried to thread the needle between his party affiliation and its opponents.

"During this campaign and during my administration my objective will be to make as many Americans as possible forget that they are Republicans or Democrats and remember that they are Americans," Kennedy said. "We need to focus on the values we share instead of the issues that divide us," he said.

Even as he dove long-winded into his years as a lawyer and accounts of historical events like the American Revolution, Kennedy projected a vision for his United States where people speak without fearing censorship, children are healthier, and fewer American troops are stationed abroad.

"I'm not an ideal presidential candidate for normal times," he said, trying to differentiate himself from candidates who, he says, "spend their life saying, 'I have to be careful because one day I'm going to be in the White House.'"

"In normal circumstances, I would not do this, but these are not normal circumstances. I'm watching my country being stolen from me," he said.

Interviews with several of the roughly 2,000 attendees suggested Kennedy draws support from various parts of the political spectrum.

Rowan May, a 25-year-old Democrat who came to the event "just for interest," is searching for an alternative to Biden, for whom he voted in 2020.

"I regret it," he said of that vote.

Diane McKamey, a 62-year-old former Trump voter, said Kennedy "represents mainstream America."

"I've been a Republican forever," she said, adding that Kennedy has her vote.

Kennedy's skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine appeared to be a key draw for some voters.

"I'm here because I believe in health freedom," said 61-year-old Patience Warnick, whose daughter had negative reactions to a round of vaccines when she was young.

Kennedy will be the first Democrat Warnick, an independent, says she has voted for.

He'll now face Marianne Williamson, a self-help author who announced her bid on March 4. He'll likely also oppose President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly said he intends to run for reelection in 2024 barring some major issues such as his health. However, the Democrat has not officially announced a decision.

The White House declined to comment on Kennedy's presidential announcement on Wednesday, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre invoking the HATCH Act -- a law that restricts political activities of federal employees -- to dodge questions about a potential Biden opponent.

"So it's 2024 -- the HATCH Act -- I'm not going to touch that," she said at a daily press briefing. "I'm not going to touch that with a 12-foot pole."