Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ends Democratic presidential bid, launches independent campaign



Robert F. Kennedy Jr. declared his “independence from the Democratic Party” Monday in Philadelphia, ending his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and launching an independent bid that he said aims to heal the political divide, which he portrayed as a fiction of a corrupt establishment.

“I intend to wrest the reins of power from both parties and give to it the American people,” he said, comparing Republicans and Democrats to teenagers fighting over the steering wheel of an out-of-control car, but both following a GPS programmed by lobbyists.

“This hatred we have for each other is orchestrated,” Kennedy continued, while switching to a medieval metaphor. “My job… is to unify Americans. Then we’re all going to go over the castle walls together.”

Kennedy has struggled to gain traction in the Democratic primary, even with voters expressing a desire that someone younger take the party banner from President Joe Biden. His views on issues like vaccines and abortion has left him outside the Democratic mainstream.

A crowd of about 1,000 turned out on a sunny fall day to hear Kennedy speak in front of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Some wore suits and ties, others homemade Kennedy t-shirts, hats and buttons and at least one custom-made cape. One sign read, “I want Camelot,” a reference to the mythologized Kennedy dynasty.

“There have been anti-establishment candidates before, but none of them who actually understand how to get the job done,” he said. “This time the independent is going to win.”

Kennedy said the time is ripe, citing the growing portion of Americans who tell pollsters they’re fed up with both parties — a record 63% say Republicans and Democrats do “such a poor job” of representing America that “a third major party is needed,” according to a new Gallup survey.

Still, Kennedy faces long odds. The best-performing independent presidential candidate in the past century, Ross Perot in 1992, won just 19% of the popular vote, which translated to zero Electoral College votes, since the winner of each state collects all the votes that actually determine who wins the White House.

Given that reality, Democrats are worried a third candidate on the ballot would be a spoiler for Biden, though polls show Republicans like Kennedy more than Democrats do.

“Three-quarters of Americans believe Biden is too told to govern effectively,” Kennedy said, before noting former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee, is facing multiple criminal indictments.  

“My intention is to spoil it for both of them,” Kennedy said.

The scion of the first family of Democratic politics said it was “very painful” for him to leave the party of his uncles (one was president, another was senator), father (former attorney general and senator), grandfather (ambassador) and great grandfather (one was a mayor and congressman, another was a city councilor), and break with their “political dynasty.” 

The rest of the Kennedy family, most of whom remain committed Democrats, have been generally critical of “Bobby’s” campaign, but he took time to mention the names of several Kennedies and Shrivers who were in attendance.

But Kennedy said the break was necessary because Democrats have lost their way and being free of any party is the only way to overcome the totalizing tribalism of contemporary politics and the paralysis it has wrought .

Kennedy launched his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in April in Boston, a place associated with his famous family, but he chose different symbolism for Monday’s announcement, which was made in front of a large banner that read, “KENNEDY 24 — DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE.”

He said he and his “populist movement that defies left-right division” were declaring independence from corporations, Wall Street, polluters, polarizing politics. He at times seemed to echo Trump, saying he will break from “the mercenary media that is here to fortify all of the corporate orthodoxies from their advertisers.”

“It’s going to be very hard for people to tell if my administration is right or left. Is it right or left to support small farms? Is it right or left to pull our country back from the brink of war with Russia? Is it right or left to have a totally secure electoral system where we know every vote will count?” Kennedy said. “As long as we’re locked in these habitual debates, the two parties are often blind to common sense solutions.”

And Kennedy — who has wrestled with the media and other fact-based institutions for decades over his conspiracy theories about vaccines and technology — took aim at the press for, he claimed, undercounting his prospects and sowing political division.

Kennedy’s announcement that he would be independent of “any party” also put to rest speculation he would join the Libertarian Party, whose chairperson he met with this summer, or the Green Party, whom Democrats blame in part for spoiling the 2000 and 2016 election.

That means next November’s ballot may be crowded. In addition to the two major party candidates, and two from the established third parties, there are two well-known independents currently running — Kennedy and philosopher Cornel West — plus the possible addition of a centrist No Labels candidate.

Still, getting on the ballot in all 50 states is a tall order without the help of a party. And with more than a year to go, several candidates may end their bids before Election Day.



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