🔒 RFK Jr.: A unifying force in the divided politics of the US

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. emerges as a unique force in American politics, defying conventional labels while drawing support from across the spectrum. Republicans decry him as a radical liberal, Democrats accuse him of being manipulated by right-wing interests. Yet, his backers, disillusioned by partisan politics, see him as a truth-teller committed to combatting corruption. In a divided landscape, Kennedy’s appeal transcends party lines, offering a promise of accountability and change.

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By Stephanie Kelly

Republicans paint independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr as a radical liberal, and Democrats say he is being financed and manipulated by right-wing donors to hurt U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection bid. But interviews with Kennedy supporters show they are not interested in labels, especially those prescribed by the major political parties they have left behind. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Kennedy is drawing supporters from both sides of the political divide. Some voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump in the last two elections but are now backing Kennedy. Others are disillusioned progressives ready to cast aside Biden, the incumbent. Most see Kennedy, a scion of the famed Democratic family, much as he portrays himself – a rare truth-teller committed to tackling corruption and powerful lobbying groups in Washington. 

In a recent Reuters poll, Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who has spread misinformation on vaccines, was backed by 13% of respondents in a match-up between him, Biden and Trump. Kennedy says he is not anti-vaccine, but for more rigorous testing of vaccines.

It is not yet clear whether Kennedy would pull more votes away from Biden or from Trump. His supporters hold a wide range of political beliefs and voting histories.

Below are excerpts from Reuters interviews with seven Kennedy supporters from across the U.S., including in the battleground states of Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina.

And no, Kennedy’s reported brain worm didn’t make them waver in their support.

A FORMER TRUMP FAN IN NEVADA 

    Arnetha Saulsbury, a 49-year-old claims specialist in Las Vegas, Nevada voted for Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. She says her main news sources are CNN, Fox, various podcasters and social media platform X. 

Why she supports RFK Jr: “The main thing that got me was his strength on COVID accountability. With the lockdowns, has anybody been held accountable for that? How much money was lost during that time period, the inflation, that spending package?… No one should be forced to take a one-size-fits-all (vaccine).” 

“Am I going to get my way every time with him if he wins the office? Probably not. But the main thing he’s going to win me over with is that COVID accountability.”

How and when she learned about RFK Jr: “You know that saying, that you can have Trump fatigue? That’s me… RFK Jr is a better Trump without all the chaos that comes with it. He doesn’t need to go on social media crying all day. (Trump has) pride, narcissism, pettiness, infighting with good, strong conservatives.”

“When I saw Ron DeSantis and RFK Jr, I said, ‘In a perfect world, these two will be a team together.’ I still would have voted for RFK Jr even if he had a “D” (Democrat) to his name, because I don’t care about the titles.”

A PREVIOUS BIDEN BACKER 

Juan Schaar, a 37-year-old software developer near Raleigh, North Carolina who voted for Biden in the 2020 election. He did not vote in the 2016 election as he was not yet eligible. He says he tries to get his news “from the horse’s mouth” as much as possible. 

Why he supports RFK Jr: “He points to this corrupt system that we have where the pharmaceutical industry runs the regulatory agencies that are supposed to be regulating them. The same with the (Environmental Protection Agency) with fossil fuels. Big Ag runs the (U.S. Department of Agriculture). All of these federal agencies that are there to protect the American people against any laws being broken or standards to uphold, they essentially work for these large corporations through corruption.”

“The (Democratic National Committee) has become a party of pro-war, pro-censorship, elitism. It’s more interested in protecting the interest of corporations and corporate donors.”

How and when he learned about RFK Jr: “One of my good friends is a manager at a health food store. And he just kept mentioning Kennedy and I was defending Biden all the time. And then I started listening to Kennedy, especially on podcasts and the long-format interviews that he does. I just found everything that he was saying fascinating.”

“The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when the Democrats essentially anointed Biden and decided to not really hold real primaries, hold debates.”

A TEXAN CONSERVATIVE  

Mark Whittingslow, a 55-year-old project engineer in the Houston, Texas area who voted for Trump in the past two elections. He says he gets his news from local news channels, search engines like MSN and Google and social media platforms. 

Why he supports RFK Jr: “Mainly it’s the idea of an honest government. I don’t feel that in my lifetime we’ve ever really had that, and to have someone come into that office and promise to be transparent about what our government is doing and saying and the policies that they’re enacting… I would be willing to support RFK Jr even though he’s not a conservative.”

“I think he has a very unique approach (with the federal deficit) and in combination with the chronic health and chronic disease and just the overall health of the public.”

How and when he learned about RFK Jr: “When he announced his candidacy, I started to look more into it and his NewsNation town hall (in June 2023) was really the first time I got a picture of what his message was.”

“If (Kennedy) weren’t in the picture, I would be voting for Trump.”

AN EX-GREEN PARTY VOTER FROM MICHIGAN 

Matthew McCloskey, a 26-year-old wellness advisor in Holland, Michigan voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the 2016 election and wrote in former Democratic primary candidate Andrew Yang in the 2020 election. He says he gets his news from social media platform X, The Hill, CNN, journalist Lee Camp and podcasts. 

Why he supports RFK Jr: “I voted in our primary in Michigan here as an undecided voter, so that was probably my last vote as a Democrat, and I’ve been drawn to really anybody in any party who speaks to disaffected voters like myself.”

“The DNC does not listen to their own voters. If the DNC would have opened up their primary, made it competitive, a little more democratic, I would have definitely got behind them.”

“A big thing for me is foreign policy. We need to reassess what it means to be American. Peace through diplomacy and not through military strength.” 

How and when he learned about RFK Jr: “It was on Facebook. It was shared into an Andrew Yang group that RFK Jr was planning on announcing his run for presidency. And so I set a reminder to livestream it and I did and at first I didn’t really understand how important he was or how big his legacy was at the time. But as I listened to him speak, I could tell this guy really understands what we’re facing as a country. He knows how to bring people together.”

A FORMER DEMOCRAT FROM NEW YORK 

Kevin Nally, a 68-year-old systems administrator in Rochester, New York who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and Biden in the 2020 election. He says he gets his news from NewsNation, local and national news on NBC and CBS, Reuters, NPR, The Joe Rogan Experience, Tucker Carlson, The Hill, Valuetainment, comedian Russell Brand and social media platform X.

Why he supports RFK Jr: “He’s not in that party structure. Those political parties are authoritarian and they don’t allow dissent. Anyone who speaks out against the Democratic orthodox is pushed out. Bernie Sanders was pushed out, because he was against Hillary Clinton… I think an independent voice in there and someone who’s not going to be tied down to this systemic problem would be what we need.”

How and when he learned about RFK Jr: “It was probably about a year ago. My son, who’s 36… he pointed me to different YouTube videos and things like that, pointing out the misinformation that our government is telling us… Many of these stories that we’re told by the government are really not true. We’re being lied to.”

“I think Trump is better than Biden at this point. I can’t believe I’m saying that. (Trump) is a narcissist who cares nothing about anybody but himself… But it just maddens me to see what’s going on with our southern border.”

A RETIRED TEACHER IN CALIFORNIA

Evelyn Burnett, a 79-year-old retired teacher in the Sierra Foothills in California who voted for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in the 2016 election and Biden in the 2020 election. She says she gets her news from AllSides, Fox, Newsmax, CNN and podcasts.

Why she supports RFK Jr: “I agree with him about fighting corporate greed and fighting against the takeover of the farms, big corporations, what’s so destructive of the environment.”

How and when she learned about RFK Jr: “When I was 15, I went with my sister-in-law to help John Kennedy’s campaign in New York City… In 1968, I volunteered to work for Robert Kennedy Sr because he was running for president.”

“When I saw that Robert Kennedy Jr was running, I still was a little skeptical because I had been a Democrat and I had been listening to MSNBC and the legacy media and all that and they all said he was a conspiracy theorist. So I was a little skeptical until I saw him on (Michael Smerconish last year). And I said to myself, ‘He seems very intelligent, very bright, very honest, and a good man.'”

A NEW VOTER IN VIRGINIA 

Sanjay Paul, a 48-year-old online instructor of sociology and psychology in Midlothian, Virginia who did not vote for any candidate in the 2016 or 2020 elections. He says he gets his news from various sources on YouTube. 

Why he supports RFK Jr: “I don’t have any issues with anyone, but I will lean toward supporting RFK Jr, his family legacy. Everything his family has done, his dedication to environmental law.”

“What I like about him is that he’s very down to earth, very personable, very warm. I’ve seen him at two events… He is more the middle-of-the-road, independent stance.”

How and when he learned about RFK Jr: “It was in early 2023. I was learning about him on YouTube.”

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SOURCE: REUTERS