Could RFK swing enough votes from Trump and Biden to decide the election?

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An illustrated image of a man pinch a suit
Democrats and Republicans fearfulness Kennedy, who is polling astatine astir 10% nationally, could propulsion votes distant from their candidates. Illustration: Samuel Kerr/The Guardian

The Kennedy sanction looms ample complete American politics. John F Kennedy, contempt serving only twoand a half years arsenic president earlier his assassination, is often classed among nan apical 10 US leaders; his brother, Robert F Kennedy, seemed group for his ain spell successful nan White House until he excessively was killed successful 1968.

Enter: Robert F Kennedy Jr, nephew of nan former, boy of nan second and increasingly, persona non grata of nan surviving Kennedy clan.

Part-time biology lawyer, full-time conspiracy theorist, an animal enthusiast who owned a pet lion astatine his elite boarding schoolhouse and who, successful his telling, had part of his encephalon eaten by a worm, Kennedy entered nan 2024 statesmanlike title arsenic a Democrat moving against Biden, earlier switching to an independent successful October past year. The 70-year-old, who besides has a history of associating pinch achromatic supremacists, is an chartless amount successful nan 2024 predetermination race, pinch some parties worried astir nan havoc he could wreak.

Five months retired from possibly nan astir consequential predetermination successful caller US history, Biden and Trump proceed to beryllium unpopular pinch nan American public. Kennedy’s expertise to beryllium neither of those men, and his willingness to thin into his family name, person positioned him arsenic a spanner successful nan useful of American democracy.

Both Democrats and Republicans fearfulness that Kennedy, who is polling astatine astir 10% nationally, could propulsion votes distant from their men. Even a fewer Biden aliases Trump voters hopping connected to nan Kennedy train could beryllium capable to power what is expected to beryllium a tight race. In an denotation of nan threat he poses, Trump has gone from praising Kennedy arsenic a “very smart person” a twelvemonth agone to precocious posting a four-minute video attacking him connected Truth Social.

Plenty of group effort to beryllium president. In 2020 alone, 1,212 people revenge paperwork pinch nan Federal Election Commission saying they were moving for nan White House. Yet it is Kennedy who is drafting each nan coverage.

Would he beryllium getting arsenic overmuch attraction – and pulling successful millions of dollars successful donations, immoderate of it from erstwhile Trump supporters – if he had a different past name? Probably not.

The world was introduced to RFK Jr early. His father, a protagonist of Israel, was killed by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian-Jordanian man, arsenic Kennedy Sr campaigned for president successful Los Angeles. A 14-year-old Kennedy Jr was a pallbearer astatine his funeral: achromatic and achromatic photos from nan ceremonial show a shaggy-haired Kennedy astatine nan caput of nan coffin, looking numb and retired of spot among a crowd of grown men.

Kennedy was nan 3rd of 11 children (the Kennedys were prodigious breeders), calved to his begetter and Ethel Kennedy – a Chicago-born girl of a ember magnate who remained a nationalist beingness measurement into nan 1990s. Ethel made an appearance connected nan sitcom Cheers and was moreover named a reliable tennis force successful a Seinfeld episode.

If Kennedy benefited from nan family name, he benefited from nan family wealth, too. Kennedy was raised successful Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, astatine nan Kennedy compound – wherever his mother lives to this day.

He studied astatine Millbrook school, a backstage boarding schoolhouse successful New York. At Millbrook, Kennedy was not universally liked, Jerry Oppenheimer wrote successful a biography of nan early statesmanlike candidate.

“[Kennedy] was viewed by immoderate chap students arsenic egotistical and irresponsible for strutting astir nan field and connected nan sidelines astatine location shot games pinch a perchance vulnerable young lion connected a leash,” Oppenheimer wrote.

Millbrook’s headmaster yet banished nan lion, who was called Toto, from campus, and nan past 130lb large feline went to unrecorded astatine a safari parkland successful Florida.

Other interests, Oppenheimer reported, included “getting stoned” and, oddly, falconry. Kennedy was successful a pack too: nan Hyannis Port Terrors, who apparently “ran astir and stole alcohol” during nan summertime months.

(Kennedy’s parading astir pinch a lion had apparently been forgiven by 1998: that year, he was nan commencement speaker astatine nan school.)

His teenage years were difficult. In an question and reply successful 2023, Kennedy said he started taking heroin erstwhile he was 15 years old, saying he “had a large quiet spread inside”, and successful 1983, erstwhile he was 29, Kennedy was charged pinch heroin possession aft he “became ill”, nan New York Times reported, “in nan washroom of an airliner” which stopped successful Rapid City, South Dakota.

“All of a abrupt everybody knew I was a supplier addict and it gave maine nan state to get help,” Kennedy told an interviewer. “I could conscionable beryllium who I was and beryllium honest.”

Kennedy had hidden his addiction while graduating from Harvard University and earning a rule grade from Pace University successful New York, and aft he had completed 2 years’ probation arsenic a consequence of nan heroin charge, he embarked connected a profession successful biology law.

He worked for Riverkeeper, an statement which protects New York’s Hudson River, and sued polluters successful an effort to protect waterways; his activity earned him a spot connected the beforehand cover of New York Magazine successful 1995, which described him arsenic “The Kennedy who matters”.

But Kennedy – who during his run has criticized Biden for overspending connected biology issues – would go amended known successful nan US arsenic a conspiracy theorist.

Kennedy spent years claiming, loudly and wrongly, that vaccines origin autism, while successful 2023 unsocial Kennedy stated that wifi causes “leaky brain”, linked antidepressants to schoolhouse shootings and said that chemicals successful h2o were making children transgender.

His history of embracing conspiracy theories meant Covid-19 was a cleanable large wind for Kennedy. His already-existing anti-vaccine group Children’s Health Defense became “an influential unit that spreads mendacious and misleading information”, Associated Press reported, pinch nan group publishing books that falsely declare nan Covid-19 vaccine caused a spike successful deaths. A study in nan Journal of Medical Internet Research successful 2022 named Kennedy’s Twitter relationship arsenic “the apical superspreader” of misinformation astir Covid-19.

Kennedy was peculiarly criticized for a reside he gave astatine a rally against mandatory Covid vaccines successful Washington successful January 2022. Standing astatine nan steps of nan Lincoln Memorial, Kennedy told an animated crowd that unnamed figures were trying to power nan American organization successful a measurement ne'er seen before.

“Even successful Hitler’s Germany, you could transverse nan Alps into Switzerland, you could hide successful nan attic for illustration Anne Frank did,” Kennedy said.

“Today nan mechanisms are being put successful spot that will make it truthful nary of america tin run, nary of america tin hide.”

The remarks caused uproar, not slightest from nan Auschwitz museum, which tweeted: “Exploiting of nan calamity of group who suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by nan totalitarian authorities of Nazi Germany – including children for illustration Anne Frank – successful a statement astir vaccines & limitations during world pandemic is simply a sad denotation of civilized & intelligence decay.”

Kennedy later apologized for saying that group who wished to stay unvaccinated had less freedoms than Anne Frank. But he continued to dabble successful Covid-19 misinformation, penning successful a 2021 book that Anthony Fauci, nan apical US nationalist wellness master during nan pandemic, had conspired pinch Bill Gates to suppress replacement medicine treatments for Covid-19.

A man wearing a achromatic suit speaks into a microphone pinch his hands successful nan air
Robert F Kennedy Jr announces his introduction to nan 2024 statesmanlike title arsenic an independent campaigner successful Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, connected 9 October 2023. Photograph: Mark Makela/Reuters

Given his history, Kennedy’s declaration, arsenic he announced his tally for nan Democratic statesmanlike information in April 2023, that he was “not an perfect statesmanlike campaigner for normal times”, could look for illustration an understatement. But group hardly had a chance to get to grips pinch his candidacy before, successful October, he scrapped nan thought of moving arsenic a Democrat, and announced an independent campaign, this clip claiming that nan “two-party establishment” was “leading america each complete a cliff”.

As an independent choice, Kennedy represents a still rather old, but not arsenic aged arsenic Biden aliases Trump, candidate. He would beryllium 71 by nan clip he took office, but Kennedy presents arsenic younger than his 2 rivals: little jowly, much robust and pinch a much convincing caput of hair. At a run extremity successful June 2023, he stripped to nan waist to assistance immoderate weights astatine a gym successful Los Angeles, revealing a reasonably awesome physique.

On nan run trial, Kennedy looks nan part: that heavy metallic hair, those large achromatic teeth, that perma-tan. His voice, then, comes arsenic a surprise. Kennedy has a strained, halting tone, owing to spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological information which affects his voice.

That information is acold from Kennedy’s only brushwood pinch sick health. Earlier this year, nan New York Times reported connected a deposition Kennedy had fixed during his divorcement from his 2nd wife, Mary Kathleen Richardson Kennedy. In nan deposition, fixed successful 2012, Kennedy said he had knowledgeable representation loss, which “was caused by a worm that sewage into my encephalon and ate a information of it and past died”.

“I person cognitive problems, clearly,” Kennedy said. “I person short-term representation loss, and I person longer-term representation nonaccomplishment that affects me.”

After nan Times article was published, Kennedy tweeted that he was consenting “​​to eat 5 much encephalon worms and still hit President Trump and President Biden successful a debate”.

Richardson Kennedy died by termination successful 2012, leaving down her 4 children pinch Kennedy. Before Richardson Kennedy, Kennedy had 2 children pinch his first wife, Emily Black, 1 of whom is called Robert F Kennedy III. In 2014, Kennedy joined Cheryl Hines, an character champion known for playing Larry David’s woman successful Curb Your Enthusiasm. The brace unrecorded successful Los Angeles.

Hines, 58, has sought to region herself from her husband’s campaign. She said successful an question and reply pinch Fox News earlier this twelvemonth that she did not ever work together pinch Kennedy’s politics: “We’ve learned to talk done it. Talk it out. Listen to each other. Sometimes, work together to disagree aliases say: ‘Oh, I’m going to deliberation astir that and I perceive what you’re saying,’ or: ‘I don’t for illustration nan measurement you’re saying it. I wish you’d opportunity it successful a different way.’”

The fearfulness for Biden and Trump is that Kennedy could beryllium a Ralph Nader figure. Nader ran arsenic nan Green statement campaigner successful nan 2000 statesmanlike election, and immoderate Democrats still judge that it was his capacity successful Florida that swung nan predetermination distant from Al Gore and towards George W Bush.

Early predictions suggested Kennedy – arsenic a scion of nan astir celebrated Democratic family successful history – would tie support from Biden. Trump and different Republicans surely seemed to deliberation so, and spent months extolling his virtues – location was moreover suggestions among rightwing media that Kennedy could beryllium a bully vice-president to Trump.

But conservatives mightiness travel to regret pumping him up. Polls have shown that Trump supporters are much drawn to Kennedy – pinch his vaccine skepticism and hardline policies connected nan separator peculiarly celebrated – than Biden.

Republican donors person flocked to Kennedy, too. Timothy Mellon, a Wyoming-based billionaire who has antecedently donated to groups supporting Trump, has fixed $25m to nan Kennedy campaign, while Rolling Stone reported that different donors see regular Republican donors for illustration John Schnatter, nan disgraced erstwhile CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, and a financier who concisely supported Ron DeSantis’s bid for nan Republican nomination.

The support is capable for Kennedy to perchance make a nuisance of himself successful position of pulling votes distant from Biden aliases Trump. But that doesn’t mean Kennedy is popular.

Like Biden and Trump, much group dislike Kennedy than for illustration him. According to FiveThirtyEight, 42% of Americans person an unfavorable sentiment of Kennedy, pinch conscionable 35% seeing him favorably: a favorability standing of -7%. (Trump has a favorability of -12%, Biden -16%.)

He’s a spot little unpopular than his 2 main opponents, then, which tin only beryllium a bully thing. But Kennedy has already shown himself to beryllium a problematic fig connected nan run trail.

Last July, he caused contention erstwhile a video signaling showed him falsely claiming that nan Covid-19 microorganism had been “ethnically targeted” astatine Caucasians and Black people, while Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese group had greater immunity.

Members of nan Kennedy family roundly criticized nan campaigner aft his remarks were made public: Jack Schlossberg, a grandson of President Kennedy, called his cousin’s run “an embarrassment” successful a video.

Other family members person made it clear that they reason their namesake’s candidacy. In April, much than a twelve members of nan Kennedy family, including six of Kennedy’s siblings, endorsed Biden for president.

That should beryllium galling for Kennedy, who connected nan run way many times mentions his family history. His Kennedy 2024 website often references his uncle, who contempt his short word classed arsenic nan ninth champion president successful a 2022 Siena College poll of historians, and 10th successful a similar survey of 154 historians and statesmanlike experts this year. (Biden was placed 14th, Trump came last.)

Kennedy’s uncle president whitethorn moreover person influenced his determination to tally arsenic an independent. In a reside successful Maryland successful 1958, erstwhile he was still a legislator and was 2 years distant from becoming nan 35th president of nan US, John F Kennedy said:

“Let america not despair but act. Let america not activity nan Republican reply aliases nan Democratic reply but nan correct answer. Let america not activity to hole nan blasted for nan past: fto america judge our ain work for nan future.”

Kennedy is hoping that Americans will work together pinch that quote – aliases astatine slightest nan spot astir not seeking Republican aliases Democratic answers – travel November.

Source theguardian