RFK Jr. Hits Trump’s Covid Response in Bid for Libertarian Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. attacked former President Donald Trump on his response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as he sought to court votes from Libertarian Party members and bolster his independent presidential bid.

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“Trump presided over the greatest restriction of individual liberties this country has ever known. He did not stand up for the Constitution when it really mattered,” Kennedy said Friday at the Libertarian National Committee’s convention in Washington.

“Maybe a brain worm ate that part of my memory, but I don’t recall any part of the United States Constitution that creates an exemption for pandemics,” he said to laughter, referencing his claim that in 2010 he suffered from a parasitic worm and that it ate a portion of his brain.

Kennedy’s speech was the latest salvo in an increasingly heated clash between him and Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, as his independent campaign threatens the hopes of the major party candidates. With a national polling average near 10%, Kennedy is potentially the best-performing third-party presidential candidate in three decades. The outcome of the election could depend on whether Kennedy draws more support away from Trump or President Joe Biden.

Both Trump and Kennedy are eager to court Libertarian support with Trump also scheduled to address the party convention on Saturday. Inviting outside candidates to a convention is unheard of even for a minor party, and has divided Libertarians. The convention will nominate its own candidate for president on Sunday. Trump and Kennedy are not among the candidates formally seeking the party’s bid.

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In his speech, Kennedy criticized both Trump and Biden, but directed his most pointed criticism at the Republican, saying he would force Trump “to defend his attacks on the Constitution” if he qualifies for a CNN-sponsored debate on June 27.

Trump has cast Libertarians, who tend to draw votes from Republican candidates and have polled as high as 3.7% in recent elections, as critical to expanding his coalition. “We have to join with them,” Trump said in Dallas last week.

Where Trump sees a threat, Kennedy sees an opportunity. The former Democrat has made third parties — and their voters across the political spectrum — a key part of his strategy.

In California, Kennedy got on the ballot with the help of the American Independent Party, which has its origins in the candidacy of segregationist George Wallace in 1968 and which endorsed Trump in 2016. In Michigan, he will appear on the Natural Law Party line once occupied by liberal activist Ralph Nader.

He also received the endorsement of the Reform Party, the party behind Ross Perot’s 1992 and 1996 presidential bids that marked a modern high-water mark for third parties in presidential elections. The Reform banner will allow him to get ballot access in Florida, and also to leverage the party’s increased campaign contribution limits.

Much of Kennedy’s platform is likely to appeal to Libertarian voters. He opposes vaccine mandates, gun control and abortion restrictions, and has battled big tech companies over what he claims are efforts to censor his message.

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