WASHINGTON — Before entering the 2024 presidential race as a Democrat, Robert Kennedy Jr. spent years cultivating the kind of following on the far-right that now has prominent Donald Trump allies urging the former president to consider Kennedy as his running mate.
Kennedy inhabits an ambiguous ideological space. He's proudly running as a Democrat who supports abortion rights and gun control, but his views on vaccines and other issues — and frequent appearances on outlets from Fox News to Alex Jones’ Infowars — have made him popular among far-right conspiracy theorists.
That groundwork is paying off in the form of widespread praise from conservative media influencers who have urged their audiences to keep an open mind about Kennedy, perhaps eager to use him as a foil against President Joe Biden.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon said he received a “standing ovation” from a “hardcore MAGA” crowd at a recent speaking engagement for floating the idea of a bipartisan Trump-Kennedy ticket. “Bobby Kennedy would be, I think, an excellent choice for President Trump to consider” as a running mate, Bannon said this week on his "War Room" show.
Roger Stone, the former Richard Nixon aide who was one of Trump’s early political advisers, called Trump-Kennedy a “dream ticket” on the news program "Real America."
While Stone said he disagrees with Kennedy on some issues, he likes the candidate's opposition to “globalists” and skepticism of continued U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia. “On those geopolitical ideas, he makes a lot of sense. In fact, he sounds a lot like Donald Trump,” Stone said.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who has promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory, on Friday tweeted, “I am really starting to like this presidential candidate’s attitude.”
Turning Point USA head Charlie Kirk on April 6 called Kennedy “one of the most articulate and thoughtful political activists going after the administrative state.”
A day earlier, conservative talk show host Steve Deace posted a picture with Kennedy on Twitter saying, “As long as he doesn’t go trans, a man with high character and courage like RFK Jr will be tempting.” And QAnon influencer Jordan Sather posted to Trump’s Truth Social platform saying he hopes to see “RFK Jr. redpilling the hell out of libs on the vaccine.”
While Biden is overwhelmingly favored to reclaim the Democratic nomination, early polls show a sizable portion of the party's base interested in Kennedy — though most mainstream Democratic operatives dismiss that as a product of his recognizable last name.
Kennedy, 69, is the son of the late famed Democrat senator of the same name and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
A recent Emerson College poll found Kennedy with 21% of the vote among Democrats, while a Fox News poll had him at 19% among Democratic primary voters. Marianne Williamson, the other declared Democratic candidate in the race, had smaller but not insignificant support in both polls.
Asked for comment about the praise from conservatives, Kennedy campaign communications director Stefanie Spear said only, “He is a candidate for the Democratic nomination.”
Kennedy has pushed back on reports that Bannon encouraged him to run for president as a chaos agent against Biden, tweeting on April 8, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with my presidential campaign.”
That hasn't stopped Kennedy from receiving praise from right-wing influencers who may be trying to draft the scion of the famous political family into a similar role as the one Rep. Tulsi Gabbard played in the 2020 Democratic primary, when she made common cause with the right by claiming the primary was rigged against her.
An environmental lawyer by trade, Kennedy has devoted much of his adult life to attacking what he views as an unholy alliance between the pharmaceutical industry, the government and the media to promote vaccinations, which he claims are responsible for autism and other chronic diseases, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against that theory.
Ignored or fact-checked by mainstream news outlets, Kennedy has found a friendlier reception in contrarian alternative media, which promote alternative medicine alongside conspiracy theories about UFOs and about the CIA, which Kennedy has blamed for killing his father and uncle.
“I don’t agree with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on some topics, but he’s a man of integrity that fights fluoride and poison shots and fentanyl and everything else. He’s a good man,” Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist said on his Infowars broadcast this month. “He’s got a lot of guts, and I really support him for the Democratic nomination.”
Jones and his company, which were recently ordered to pay more than $1 billion in damages to families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre for promoting falsehoods about the 2012 school shooting, have frequently promoted Kennedy interviews and books, and hosted him for several exclusive interviews.
“If he backed off gun control, which he doesn’t really talk about, and became more pro-life, which he is starting to do, I would support him over most RINO Republicans. So I would actually vote Democrat,” Jones continued. “I mean, I would vote for Trump over him or [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, but if he won the presidency, that’s a classy guy who is a good man and who cares about people and who is against the establishment. He’s a good man. That’s why the whole media is attacking him right now.”
A few days later, when a caller told Jones he was surprised how much of Kennedy’s message resonated with him, Jones replied, “Kennedy’s definitely awake, and knows what’s going on, and has been listening to the show for a very long time.”
“I’ve been at the forefront of the JFK assassination and Robert F. Kennedy assassination information and of course covered it forever. Well, he knows better than anybody what really happened, so that’ll kind of wake you up when the government kills your dad and your uncle.”
As vaccine hesitancy grew among conservatives during the coronavirus pandemic — and as Kennedy got banned by social media platforms for advancing misinformation about the virus — he found a wider audience on more mainstream conservative outlets, where his family association lent an air of bipartisan credence to his broadsides against Anthony Fauci, social distancing mandates and his allegations of censorship.
Kennedy was also one of former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s final guests this month. He received what he called a “very kind introduction” from Carlson, who said he agreed with “most” of what Kennedy said.
After Carlson was fired, Kennedy defended him for a “breathtakingly courageous” monologue against Covid vaccines, suggesting he was fired because he “crosse[d] the red line by acknowledging that the TV networks pushed a deadly and ineffective vaccine to please their Pharma advertisers.”
Kennedy’s star seems to have only risen higher on the right now that he’s running in the Democratic primary.
Shortly after kicking off his presidential campaign, Kennedy received a warm reception when introduced by Breitbart’s Joel Pollak for an interview.
“I know that this is a conservative audience, including many Trump supporters, but many of the themes of [Kennedy’s] launch speech were familiar to you and me,” Pollak said.