Robert Kennedy Jr, 2024 Election, ballot access
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from © Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire and DonkeyHotey / Wikimedia

The “man of the people” throws big money, big lawyers, and big smokescreens in his presidential bid.

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Despite all the profoundly irresponsible vaccine statements RFK Junior has made — plus perpetually changing his story or just outright lying about those remarks (go here, here, and here) — in the back of my mind there were still a few brain cells clinging to the hope that he was basically a decent person trying to do the right thing, however misguided and deeply flawed.

To be sure, his charmed life was also filled with tumult, trauma, misfortune and profound tragedy. I figured that maybe because of this — and because of his family legacy — he really did care about the structural and moral problems hobbling the central institutions of our government and society. Maybe he would evolve into a figure of equanimity and composure, a healer, a reformer, a leader. Maybe something special was waiting to be revealed. 

I am now afraid that such high hopes were folly. Judging from his most recent strategy and tactics, it all looks bad, bad, bad. Like what you’d expect from Donald Trump. Just total cynicism and a will to win or make trouble at any cost. 

Let’s consider a few examples. 

After claiming to be driven by a moral compass and decrying the corruption of our country by money and corporate self-interest, he chose a one-dimensional running mate with no prior political experience or policy platform, whose main and perhaps only qualification, besides providing gender balance, is enormous wealth that can fund his campaign.

Then, he began trying to use that money — and MAGA money backing him in the hopes his candidacy will drag Biden down — to get on the ballot in every state. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying to get on ballots. It’s the way he’s doing it. Think of a junior Roy Cohn but without the whole organized crime and being disbarred thing.

Using this newfound funding, he’s hired some of America’s top election lawyers, and they are using any tactics to succeed. If that sounds like what a legit US presidential candidate can and should do, consider this:

Although he has labeled his campaign “American Values” and says it represents a stirring among the people, including legions of dedicated “volunteers,” a surprising number of those carrying the petitions to get him on ballots are paid professionals.  

After gathering signatures, the Kennedy team plans to deliberately delay filing the actual ballot petition until the last minute, in order to give the Democratic Party less time to challenge the filings. One wonders — now that some polls show Kennedy hurting Trump, nationally at least, more than Biden — whether the GOP will join forces with the Democrats to challenge Kennedy’s signatures.

But more consequently, in at least one state, even after he succeeded in getting on the ballot, his lawyer went to court to block transparency on his signature gatherers. The New York Times reported:

In Utah, for example, Mr. Rossi’s legal efforts continue even though the campaign has already secured ballot access. The lawsuit there challenges disclosure requirements for paid signature gatherers, among other rules.

That’s not the behavior of an ethically driven, transparent candidate focused on values or fixing the system. That’s someone deeply cynical, preventing the public from learning the truth about him and his methods. 

Ironically, his vice presidential running mate, Nicole Shanahan, ex-wife of a billionaire, said in March that she is a “disillusioned Democrat.” “I do believe they’ve lost their way in their leadership,” she said at the time. “I worry for the party’s overwhelming interest in elitism … and winning at all costs. And I worry that they do it even if that means turning a blind eye on the issues that they all know to be true.”

If this all smells familiar it’s because accusing one’s opponents of your own transgressions always produces the same gassy ironic aroma.

Then just this past week the Kennedy campaign blasted out a major press release misrepresenting the import of a poll it commissioned to claim that only Bobby, and not Joe Biden, can defeat Trump in November.

If Bobby were truly an inspiring figure to the masses, there would be an actual groundswell, and an army of volunteer signature gatherers. Plenty of candidates throughout history proved that. 

Strangest Bedfellows

But even worse are the alliances he is forming. I was shocked to see that he’s on the ballot in California for the American Independent Party (AIP). I well remember that party from my youth. It was an extreme, racist, antisemitic outfit in those days. Its 1968 presidential nominee was… the famed segregationist Alabama governor, George Wallace; its VP nominee was Gen. Curtis LeMay, who was so eager for a nuclear war he was considered the inspiration for Gen. Jack D. Ripper, a paranoid crackpot in the1964 film Dr. Strangelove. Its 1972 candidate was the notorious segregationist, Lester Maddox. In 2004, a neo-Confederate activist, Michael Peroutka. In 2008 — Alan Keyes, a Black man, but a very conservative Black man.

And now we see that young people, including a lot of young Black people, are intrigued by Kennedy. They’re being targeted through the kinds of “bro radio” podcasts that seek out the alienated, mostly men, and cater to their alienation and doubts. I wonder how they would feel about seeing Kennedy alongside neo-Nazis and other right-wingers at an anti-mask rally in Berlin. (A vindictive Kennedy actually sued a Daily Kos blogger for correctly reporting his presence at that rally in 2020. A federal judge dismissed the case earlier this year.)

His alliances, and his use of lawyers to keep the public from learning about his dicey tactics (using paid signature gatherers, and then trying to obfuscate the fact) — are exactly the opposite of the squeaky clean, idealistic image that is at the heart of his campaign and his appeal. 

Sometimes it might seem that the ends justify the means, but in this case — what, exactly, are the ends?

Kennedy’s odd-lot barrel of issues are not just all over the map but are often contradictory. To call his “platform” incoherent would be generous. If there ever was a guiding philosophy, it has long since been lost. 

In this sense, he hews closer to the platformless MAGA/GOP than to the generally cohesive vision and policies put forward by Biden and the Democrats. That may in part explain why he has shown increasing appeal to MAGA voters and why a concerned Trump has set about attacking him as a “radical liberal.”  

Kennedy may be the most hypocritical, “stand-for-nothing” shadow of a candidate we’ve seen since, well, Trump. Like Trump, he incites the disaffected to project their concerns onto him, and he draws people who, in their mesmerized state, are blind to what they’re truly embracing — and how little of substance there is. 

Ultimately, he seems to be yet another vehicle for a kind of inchoate rage that has built up in some people over the years. A rage that, unfortunately, will not lead to anything productive. Chaos now appears to be its own end. 

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  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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