On a steamy summer morning, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. strode into a hotel conference room in Columbia, South Carolina, amid a barnstorming town hall tour of a state where Joe Biden won close to 49 percent of the vote in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Mr. Kennedy spoke about his 2024 presidential campaign. While Democrat pundits say he's a fringe candidate who spreads conspiracy theories, polls show him with the highest favorability rating of any presidential candidate.
There's no path for Mr. Kennedy to defeat President Joe Biden, critics claim, even amid questions about the current president's age and mental fitness, his low approval ratings, and surveys showing that Americans are concerned about the economy.
Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted to throw its full support to the president.
Mr. Kennedy acknowledges that unseating an incumbent president in the same party is a daunting challenge, although he disagrees with doubters who say he has no chance of securing the nomination.
The 2024 presidential nominee will be announced during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago next summer. Until then, Mr. Kennedy intends to continue to press his case.
“The DNC has around $2 billion, and they're spending that money generously to try to marginalize me in many ways, but I think most Democrats care about one thing more than anything else, which is to beat Donald Trump,” Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times. “I think President Biden cannot do that. I can.”
Mr. Kennedy is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was shot and killed after a campaign speech while running for president in 1968.
During his town halls and meet-and-greets, Mr. Kennedy tells stories from time spent with his uncle and father and connects them to his presidential campaign.
He wants to continue his father’s legacy of uniting Americans from all economic classes and ethnic backgrounds.
“I think we do that by telling the truth to people. My dad did it that way. He talked about uncomfortable issues but talked about the truth. I think people are tired of being lied to by the government, by the media,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“My dad ran against an incumbent president in his own party (Lyndon B. Johnson) during a divisive time. I’m running against a larger challenge because I am facing an entire infrastructure that is against me, from my own party and Big Tech and the pharmaceutical industry.”
An environmental attorney and the founder of Children’s Health Defense, Mr. Kennedy is widely known for being outspoken about the health risks of vaccines. His stand on these and other issues has drawn support from voters who aren't left-leaning.
Broad SpectrumSince announcing his 2024 presidential campaign in April, Mr. Kennedy has gained support from a broad spectrum of voters, leading to speculation that he could run as a Republican or an independent.
The candidate, however, has said that he won’t do that, reiterating that stance over the past month in town halls and meet-and-greets in South Carolina, Virginia, and New York City.
“I’m a Democrat. This is my identity, but I want my party back,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I’m running for president because the Democratic Party has lost its way.
"I want to remind the Democratic Party of what we are supposed to represent: A focus on the middle class and labor, the well-being of minorities, a focus on the environment, civil liberties, and freedom of speech."
He frequently talks about "unity" and “healing the divide.”
“I intend to bridge this toxic polarization that is really destroying our country and tearing us apart,” Mr. Kennedy said.
He called his campaign a “peaceful insurgency” that he hopes will appeal to conservative Republicans, independents, moderates, and liberal Democrats.
“During the 35 years I spent as one of the leaders of the environmental movement in our country, I was the only environmentalist who was regularly going on Fox News. I went on Sean Hannity repeatedly—Bill O'Reilly, too,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“I want to talk to media members and voters who share differing opinions than mine, because how else are you going to persuade?
“I think we have a lot more in common than what the media portrays. What keeps us apart are things that are rather trivial. We let them feed this toxic polarization. We need to talk. We need to have conversations with people from a wide range of views.”
Days after a House hearing on censorship in July that saw Democrats attempt to block Mr. Kennedy from testifying, a Harvard–Harris poll showed that he has a higher favorability rating than any other 2024 presidential candidate.
Mr. Kennedy also had the highest net favorability of all 2024 presidential candidates in a June poll from The Economist/YouGov.
Kennedy campaign manager Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio who ran for president in 2004 and 2008, believes that Mr. Kennedy can "rebuild and save" the country and that there's a path to victory over Biden.
“He is the only Democrat who can reach across the political spectrum, which means he can win in 2024,” Mr. Kucinich told The Epoch Times.
“Conservatives, liberals, independents, and libertarians are responding to this campaign because of the unique qualities of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and because there is an understanding he stands for unity, freedom, truth, and authenticity. That is what’s resonating with people.”
When asked about President Biden and former President Trump, Mr. Kennedy was measured in his responses.
'Poison, Hatred, and Vitriol'Mr. Kennedy stands for "de-escalating” what he called "poison, hatred, and vitriol."
He has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of President Biden’s job performance but has refrained from personal attacks about the 80-year-old’s mental fitness.
“If there’s a policy I disagree with—like the war, like censorship, the lockdowns—I’m going to criticize those, but I’m not going to attack him as a man,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“I will say, whether he's up to it or not, whether he's making his own decisions—the decisions that are coming out of the White House are bad decisions.”
President Biden isn't scheduled to appear in Democrat primary debates, a decision that Mr. Kennedy believes the president should reconsider.
“I think it would be better if we have a democracy where every candidate debates,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“I suppose he is making a strategic decision that's based upon his own interest, but I think we’re living in a period when people have lost faith in the democratic process, and they think the system is rigged.”
President Joe Biden and President Trump should take the debate stage as a sign of respect for American voters, Mr. Kennedy said.
“Americans shouldn't feel like we live in the Soviet Union, where the party picks the candidates. I think it would be much better for our democracy—and we'd be a better example for the world and improve our credibility with the American people—if we actually allowed democracy to function and all the candidates participated in debates and town halls and retail politics.
“It is important for the Democratic Party that there is a primary debate. Ultimately, a Democrat will debate a Republican, and the Republican will likely be Trump. He is probably the most successful debater in this country since [the Lincoln–Douglas debates].”
Mr. Kennedy noted how President Trump defeated a crowded pool of Republican primary candidates in 2016.
“He has his own technique that people like. It’s like going into a prize fight. You need practice, and that usually happens in the primary,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“Asking the president to not debate in the primary is like asking a prizefighter to practice by sitting on the couch.”
In South Carolina, Virginia, and New York City, Mr. Kennedy talked to voters about the economy and issues on which he disagrees with President Biden.
In Charleston, he criticized the president for continued financial support to Ukraine.
“One of the big problems we have in our federal government is the addiction to war,” Mr. Kennedy said. “President Biden went to Congress and asked for another $24 billion for the Ukraine war.
“We’ve spent $8 trillion on wars since 9/11. If we kept that money home, we would’ve had child care for every American. We would have free college education for every American. We’d be able to pay for our Social Security system.”
He believes that he, and not President Biden, is the candidate who will best represent Democrats in 2024 and beyond.
“I am the only choice that is going to end the war machine, that is going to really focus on rebuilding the American middle class, taming inflation,” he said.
About gun control, Mr. Kennedy said: “I do not believe that, within that Second Amendment, there is anything we can meaningfully do to reduce the trade and the ownership of guns.
“Anybody who tells you that they’re going to reduce gun violence through gun control at this point, I don’t think is being realistic. I think we have to think about other ways to reduce that violence.”
Mr. Kennedy did note that he would sign an assault weapons ban if he were president and legislation was placed on his desk.
A vocal opponent of the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Kennedy vowed at a town hall in Brooklyn on Sept. 1 that he would ban pharmaceutical advertising.
He's outspoken about the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccine for some in the population who were coerced to take them, but he told the Epoch Times that he isn't “anti-vaccine.”
“I’ve never been anti-vaccine,” he said. “I’ve said that hundreds and hundreds of times, but it doesn’t matter because that is a way of silencing me. Using that pejorative to describe me is a way of silencing or marginalizing me.”
Mr. Kennedy has said that, initially, he wasn't in favor of President Trump’s border wall. But after seeing the border firsthand in Arizona in July, he changed his mind. He said there's a need for increased infrastructure and technology at the border, including more segments of a physical wall and sensors in areas where a wall isn’t feasible.
Mr. Kennedy visited the Arizona–California border with Mexico in early June and met with illegal immigrants, Border Patrol agents, and other stakeholders.
“The Democratic Party thinks our function should be welcoming all immigrants into the country no matter what, and to basically open the borders. And the experiment has been a disaster, a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“I watched it firsthand. I watched 300 people come across the border and then be processed and sent to locations all over the country with court dates seven years down the road.
“There’s now 7 million people who have come across illegally and have no legal status in this country. Those people are very vulnerable now to unscrupulous employers who are paying them $5 and $6 an hour.”
Mr. Kennedy called the Biden administration’s open border policy “a way of funding a multibillion-dollar drug and human trafficking operation for the Mexican drug cartels.”
“As president, I will secure the border, which will end the cartel’s drug trafficking economy. I will build wide doors for those who wish to enter legally so that the U.S. can continue to be a beacon to the world where diversity and culture make us great,” he said.
Ending the Russia–Ukraine WarMr. Kennedy has called for de-escalating the war in Ukraine. He says he's sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause and that Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the country illegally, but he chastised the United States for its role in the conflict.
“We have neglected many, many opportunities to settle this war peacefully,” he said. “We have turned that nation into a proxy war between Russia and the United States.”
Mr. Kennedy has urged President Biden to negotiate a peaceful end to the Russia–Ukraine war, which started when Russia invaded the neighboring nation in February 2022.
“Russia is not going to lose this war. Russia can't afford it,” he said. “It would be like us losing a war to Mexico.”
As part of his reasoning for ending the war, Mr. Kennedy referenced his uncle President John F. Kennedy.
"My uncle Jack said that the primary job of an American president of the United States is to keep the country out of war. He kept out of Vietnam. He sent only 16,000 military advisers there—mainly Green Berets,” he said.
The American DreamWhen it comes to supporting labor unions, Mr. Kennedy's ideas are similar to President Biden's.
“In my administration, you can expect vigorous action by the Justice Department and the Department of Labor to enforce laws against union-busting and unfair labor practices,” Mr. Kennedy said.
“We will also raise the minimum wage so that unions have a higher floor from which to bargain. We will negotiate trade treaties that don’t pit American workers against low-wage foreign workers in a race to the bottom.”
At his campaign stops. Mr. Kennedy likes to talk about the flourishing economic period that the nation experienced after World War II.
“I grew up during the heyday of American economic prosperity. It was in the 1950s and 1960s that the archetype of the American Dream was born. It was not something available only to a lucky few; it was within the reach of most Americans,” he said.
“A single wage-earner with a high school education at that time could own a home, raise a family, have vacations, and save for retirement. That is how it should be. If you work hard, you should have a decent life.”
Mr. Kennedy said that if elected president, he would create a 3 percent mortgage for Americans guaranteed by the government and funded by the sale of tax-free bonds. He would also work to make it less profitable for large corporations to own single-family homes in the United States.
“If you have a rich uncle who co-signs your mortgage, you will get a lower interest rate because the bank looks at his credit rating," Mr. Kennedy said at a recent town hall in Spartanburg, South Carolina. "I’m going to give everyone a rich uncle, and his name is Uncle Sam.”
The first 500,000 of those 3 percent mortgages would be reserved for teachers, he said.
Corporations Killing the DreamMaking it easier for Americans to buy single-family homes without competing against institutional investors is a priority, he said.
A Wall Street Journal report in 2021 showed that 200 corporations were aggressively buying tens of thousands of single-family houses, including entire neighborhoods, and significantly increasing rental prices.
Calling the issue a "crisis," Mr. Kennedy put the blame on asset management behemoths such as BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard.
“And now they have a new target, which is to gain ownership of all the single-family residences in this country. And they are on a trajectory to do that,” Mr. Kennedy told an audience in Greenville, South Carolina.
“Usually, when a company buys a home with a cash offer, there is an LLC with an ambiguous name. It often can be traced back to one of those big companies.”
Mr. Kennedy noted that Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, is a World Economic Forum (WEF) board member.
“The WEF is a billionaire boys club that meets in Davos every year and has a plan, which is a 'New World Order' and what they have called the 'Great Reset,'” he said. “Klaus Schwab, who wrote the book on that agenda, says that 'you will own nothing and you will be happy.' They are well on their way to accomplishing that first part.”
At every stop in South Carolina, Mr. Kennedy said that one of his first priorities as president would be to change the tax code so that “it will be less profitable for large corporations to own single-family homes.”
Curbing credit card debt is another way to help more Americans achieve home ownership and become more financially comfortable.
“Many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. The average income in this country is $5,000 less than the average cost of living. What that means is people have to make up the difference by putting those expenses on credit cards,” Mr. Kennedy told a crowd in Richmond, Virginia.
“We recently reached a milestone in this country with more than $1 trillion in personal credit card debt.”
He noted that many creditors are charging interest rates of 22 percent and higher.
“If it was the Mafia, it would be loan sharking, and they would go to jail, but for banks and credit card companies, it's considered the cost of doing business,” he said.
Before concluding his remarks about credit card debt, Mr. Kennedy posed a question to the audience.
“Who do you think owns many of those companies?" he asked.
Primary SeasonUnder a new format, South Carolina will hold the first Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, 2024. The DNC, encouraged by President Biden, voted earlier this year to strip the Iowa caucus of its traditional lead-off spot in the party's presidential nominating process and replace it with South Carolina.
In late August, as Mr. Kennedy traveled around South Carolina, he stopped in Orangeburg to officially open a statewide campaign office.
New Hampshire has long been the country’s—and the GOP's—first primary after the Iowa caucuses. Under the Democrats' new primary calendar, which differs from the Republicans', it would vote with Nevada on Feb. 6, 2024.
Because of the move, President Biden’s name might not appear on New Hampshire's Democrat primary ballot.
The DNC rules panel gave New Hampshire and Iowa until Sept. 1 to comply with new rules or face possible sanctions. Republican and Democrat legislators in New Hampshire have said that they won't adhere to the schedule change, saying state law prohibits the move.
If President Biden's name doesn't appear on the ballot, that would leave Mr. Kennedy to compete with author Marianne Williamson in the New Hampshire primary.
New Hampshire’s Democratic party leaders have said that a longtime state law requires that their primary be scheduled ahead of any other primary.
In 2020, candidate Joe Biden lost the Democratic caucus in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire before winning decisively in South Carolina. He has said that South Carolina more accurately represents the party’s diverse voting base.
“Everyone knows the real reason the DNC made the change. The people of South Carolina didn’t ask for it. No, it is simply another undemocratic attempt to rig the primary process in favor of their anointed candidate, Joe Biden,” Mr Kennedy said.
First Office in New HampshireMr. Kennedy opened his first office in New Hampshire in August.
“New Hampshire plays an important role in American democracy because they have this history, and they have a cultural affinity for vetting candidates early on in the process, and they do a very good job of it,” Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times.
“In many other states, politicians can fly over at 30,000 feet and carpet bomb the state with billions of dollars in advertising. It’s kind of a Kabuki theater of democracy rather than real democracy.
"In Iowa, you go to the farms and stock sales. In New Hampshire, you have to go to the barber shops and the nail salons and the diners, and you have to shake hands with people, and you have to answer difficult questions and then follow-up questions. You get to know people, and that is important.”
Mr. Kennedy recalls campaign trips with his uncle and father in the 1960s.
“I remember the crowds and the enthusiasm. That is what we are seeing at our events. Enthusiasm. Intensity,” he said.
“There’s nothing like meeting people face to face and hearing their concerns. When we were in New Hampshire, we had one event in a sparsely populated area in one of the most northern counties, and we drove down a long dirt road. I thought, ‘How is anyone going to show up at this event?’ and we had 500 people there. That is inspiring.”
Mr. Kennedy supports abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.
“I can argue there's nobody in this country that has worked harder for the rights of medical freedom and personal bodily autonomy than me," Mr. Kennedy said. “That applies to the vaccines and abortion.
“I don't think the government should be telling us what to do with our bodies and dictating for Americans what we can and cannot do in the first three months of pregnancy. It’s a woman’s choice.”
That stance could cost him potential support from conservatives, he conceded.
“I've seen photos of late-term abortions, and they're horrifyingly troubling,” he said. “I respect people who have different points of view, and for people who say that ‘it's the only issue that I care about,’ they will likely vote for someone else because of my beliefs.
CensorshipAlso ranking high among issues that Mr. Kennedy feels strongly about is censorship—from the government as well as Big Tech.
He has filed legal action against the Biden administration and Google, among other entities, for alleged censorship. He has appeared before Congress to testify about the issue.
“I was censored not just by a Democratic administration, I was censored by the Trump administration. I was the first person censored by the Biden administration, two days after he came into office,” Mr. Kennedy told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government in July.
At the time, a company spokesperson said Instagram removed Mr. Kennedy's account for “repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”
In June, Instagram restored the account.
Mr. Kennedy’s Facebook account has remained active.
Meta removed Instagram and Facebook accounts belonging to Children’s Health Defense (CHD), Mr. Kennedy’s nonprofit. CHD, according to its website, advocates to “end childhood health epidemics by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and establish safeguards to prevent future harm.”
Allegations of Anti-SemitismWhat bothers Mr. Kennedy even more are accusations earlier this year that he's “anti-Semitic.”
At a gathering in July, secretly recorded video footage was leaked to the media in which Mr. Kennedy can be heard describing research that reported that the COVID-19 virus disproportionately affected Caucasian and black people while being comparably mild for Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people, whom Mr. Kennedy suggested had a stronger immune response to the virus.
Democrats and other critics of Mr. Kennedy condemned the comments as “racist” and “anti-Semitic.”
Mr. Kennedy has vehemently denied the allegations.
“Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly made despicable anti-Semitic and anti-Asian remarks as recently as last week,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said, citing a section of House rules that she said Mr. Kennedy’s comments violated.
In a recorded vote, all 10 Republicans present at the hearing voted to shelve Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s motion. All eight Democrats present voted in favor of the motion.
Mr. Kennedy testified that he has “never uttered a phrase that was racist or anti-Semitic,” and he continued to defend himself on July 25 in New York at a World Values Network presidential candidate series event.
Just as he said in July, Mr. Kennedy pointedly refuted the claims that he's anti-Semitic.
“I've been involved in controversial issues for most of my career. Usually, it doesn’t affect me,” he said. “The accusation of anti-Semitism cuts me and hurts me. It hurts Cheryl [Hines, Mr. Kennedy's wife]. It hurts our family, and so that was painful.
“I've literally never said an anti-Semitic word in my life, but I believe they [Democrats on the House committee] probably thought whatever they were doing was right in one way or another.
“There’s a way to censor people through targeted character assassination. You use vile accusations to marginalize them, and that is the kind of censorship I’m now dealing with.”
The Democratic contender concluded his comments about censorship with a message that reflects a key component of his campaign platform
“If we're going to really heal the divide between Americans—which is one of the things that I'm trying to do with this campaign—we can’t react even to hatred with hatred. We have to react with forgiveness. React with kindness and react with generosity,” Mr. Kennedy stated.
“Harboring resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping someone else dies. It corrodes our souls."