Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., made it official on Monday: He’s switching from running for president as a Democrat to mounting an independent candidacy. Kennedy had originally run in the party with which his family was closely associated for much of the 20th century, but the DNC made clear that it was not interested in a competitive primary process, while it appeared that more of Kennedy’s support was coming from the right than from the Democratic Party.
“Today, I declared myself an independent candidate for President of the United States of America,” Kennedy said in the speech at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. “And more than that, I joined my voice with all the people who are fed up and all the people who are hopeful, to make a new Declaration of Independence for our entire nation.”
The candidate joins a growing list of prominent third-party candidates in 2024, including longtime academic Cornel West, who was running with the Green Party but has since decided to go independent, and a potential centrist effort from the group No Labels. Any of those campaigns will need to push a signature effort to get on the ballot in all 50 states, something one celebrity third-party candidate, the rapper Kanye West, failed to do in 2020.
Kennedy, the son of the late senator, attorney general, and presidential candidate of the same name, has become a controversial figure in recent years, due largely to his skepticism about vaccines, an issue with which he was associated even before the COVID pandemic. Upon the announcement, four of his siblings released a statement calling their brother’s independent presidential campaign “dangerous to our country.”
“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.” Members of the Kennedy family had previously been critical of RFK Jr.’s work related to vaccines.
When Kennedy was running as a Democrat, it was seen by many as a push from the right to undermine Biden, with conservative figures like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones frequently praising him. Kennedy also further embraced conspiracy theories, at one point stating that the COVID-19 virus had been engineered to spare certain ethnic groups, like Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
With Kennedy going independent, the question is whether he is now more likely to hurt Republicans’ chances to win in 2024 rather than Democrats.
According to the Associated Press, the announcement of Kennedy’s third-party run was greeted with “silence” by Democrats, while Republicans were more critical of the idea. Some liberal skeptics have predicted, throughout, that Kennedy would eventually back Trump, but that’s now looking less likely.
“Voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung told the AP, before calling Kennedy’s presidential effort “nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”
A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll asked what would happen in a three-way race among Trump, Biden, and Kennedy. Trump polls 33 percent, Biden 31 percent, and Kennedy 14 percent. However, that question more than a year before the general election, on Kennedy’s first day as an independent candidate, likely holds little meaning.
In a three-way race, Kennedy would be competing with Biden among older Democrats who may have leftover affection for the Kennedy family, while he would be fighting with Trump over vaccine skeptics and others susceptible to conspiracy theories.
The AP story noted that “joy, hope, and the faint smell of marijuana hovered above the crowd” at the event, although recreational marijuana remains illegal in Pennsylvania.
Author Expertise and Experience
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.