Robert F Kennedy Jr is reported to be ending his challenge to Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination and run instead as an independent candidate, in a move that could upset the 2024 race for the White House.
Kennedy, 69 and a scion of a famous political dynasty – a son of the former US attorney general and New York senator Robert F Kennedy, and a nephew of the former president John F Kennedy – will announce his run in Pennsylvania on 9 October, according to Mediaite.
“Bobby feels that the Democratic National Committee is changing the rules to exclude his candidacy so an independent run is the only way to go,” the website quoted a “Kennedy campaign insider” as saying.
Whether Kennedy; Cornel West, the Green party pick; or a notional nominee backed by No Labels, a supposedly centrist group, a third-party candidate is widely seen to be likely to peel more support from Biden than the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, thereby potentially handing the presidency to the Republican.
Kennedy is an attorney who made his name as an environmental campaigner before achieving notoriety as a prominent vaccine sceptic, particularly over Covid-19. His campaign has been rife with controversy, not least in a podcast interview released this week in which he repeated a conspiracy theory about the 9/11 attacks on New York.
His campaign has also been roiled by an antisemitism scandal after Kennedy told reporters at a press dinner that Covid-19 was “ethnically targeted” at white people and Black people, while Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people had greater immunity. The false claim was embraced by neo-Nazi groups and condemned by scientists and Jewish organizations.
Kennedy’s remarks echoed antisemitic tropes that circulated widely during the pandemic and portrayed the coronavirus as a global Jewish plot, causing members of Kennedy’s own family to denounce him for “deplorable and untruthful” comments.
Polling has shown Kennedy performing relatively well against Biden, the incumbent president, in the Democratic primary, but not close to posing a serious threat.
However, Biden aides are reportedly nervous about the possible impact of third-party candidates in a likely presidential election match-up with Trump.
Polling shows widespread concerns, including among Democrats, that at 80, Biden is too old to serve an effective second term in the White House. Trump is only three years younger – and faces 91 criminal charges, including for election subversion, and assorted civil threats – but polls show less concern among his fervent Republican base that he could be unfit to return to office.
Rightwing figures – prominent among them Steve Bannon, formerly Trump’s White House strategist – have encouraged Kennedy to run against Biden or as an independent.
As cited by Mediaite, in July the Fox News host Greg Gutfeld said: “I think he should run as a third-party candidate because I do think he should, he would win.”
But not every observer thought Kennedy’s move would be bad for Biden.
Joe Conason, the editor of the National Memo, said: “Go Bobby! Running ‘independent’ means you’ll draw more voters from the candidate you resemble most in political ideology, personal conduct, and narcissistic mentality. (That’s Trump, not Biden.)”