Vaccine skeptic and environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Monday he is dropping his Democratic bid for president and instead running as an independent candidate. It’s a decision that’s prompted responses from members of both major political parties, hinging on fears that he now threatens to take votes from the two presidential frontrunners.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) and former President Donald Trump’s campaign were both quick to take aim at Kennedy Monday, pointing to his liberal background and historical ties to the Democratic party.
“Make no mistake — a Democrat in Independent’s clothing is still a Democrat,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement following the announcement. “RFK Jr. cannot hide from his record of endorsing Hillary [Clinton], supporting the Green New Deal, fighting against the Keystone Pipeline, and praising AOC’s [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] tax hikes — he is your typical elitist liberal and voters won’t be fooled.”
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung also labeled RFK Jr.’s new campaign as “nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”
But it’s not just conservatives taking aim at Kennedy. Even his own family is speaking out against his bid for the White House.
“The decision of our brother Bobby to run as a third-party candidate against Joe Biden is dangerous to our country,” a group of Kennedy’s siblings said in a joint statement posted by younger sister Kerry. “Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.”
The 69-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy had been running a long-shot Democratic challenge against incumbent President Biden. But after trailing in the polls and showing better favorability among some conservatives, Kennedy switched to declare himself an independent candidate.
“I’ve come here today to declare our independence from the tyranny of corruption which robs us of affordable lives, our belief in the future, and our respect for each other,” Kennedy said during his Monday announcement. “But to do that I must first declare my own independence. Independence from the Democratic Party and from all other political parties.”
With the 2024 race likely headed toward a 2020 rematch between President Biden and former President Trump , Kennedy’s decision will surely have an impact on the outcome, with allies from both major parties questioning whether he could spoil their candidate’s campaign.
“That truth is, they’re both right,” Kennedy said. “My intention is to spoil it for both of them.”
At this point, analysts are divided on who he could take more votes from. But the Biden campaign has repeatedly dismissed Kennedy’s primary challenge as frivolous, while Trump allies have denounced him as a “radical Democrat” who’s trying to use his name to gain influence.
Nonetheless, an Ipsos/Reuters poll published earlier this month found in a three-way matchup that 33% of respondents supported Trump, 31% supported Biden, and a growing number — 14% — supported Kennedy.