The Kennedy campaign the Kennedys don’t want to see
BOSTON — John F. Kennedy harnessed the nation’s ambition in his moonshot speech in Houston. Robert F. Kennedy channeled its grief after his brother’s assassination two years later. Ted Kennedy quoted from “Ulysses” in defense of the liberal movement at Madison Square Garden.
And then, on Wednesday, came Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the family’s black sheep — rallying government conspiracy theorists, vaccine skeptics and Republicans from across the country as he launched his quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
No American political dynasty is more familiar with service, sacrifice and scandal than the Kennedys. But many of this Kennedy’s family members want nothing to do with their progeny’s all-but-doomed bid. Several of Kennedy’s siblings and relatives are openly backing President Joe Biden for a second term. Three of them are diplomats for his administration. Just a smattering of his children and grandchildren showed up for his launch. When reached by phone, one of his brothers, Joseph Kennedy, begged off a chance to talk about it all.
“Most American families, they never have any differences with each other. So when it happens with a family, it’s really huge news, like, everywhere,” the now-candidate Kennedy said to laughter from a standing-room crowd that packed the ballroom of the Boston Park Plaza hotel to see him.
“I have no ill will” toward any of them, he added.
Kennedy, if nothing else, is aware of the value of the family brand. Now 69, he opined at length about his famous forbearers, flashing old photos and brandishing his family name in one of his Uncle Ted’s old fundraising haunts as he peddled the type of anti-vaccine rhetoric his living relatives have disavowed. He drew parallels to his father in one breath and blasted government censorship and “corporate” media misinformation in another. He largely steered clear of Biden, who’s spoken at length of his deep regard for the Kennedy family and modeled his “cancer moonshot” after JFK’s initiative.
Kennedy said he chose Boston for his launch because of the time he spent here as a kid, but also because Massachusetts is Kennedy country.
Yet top Democratic operatives here, many of whom have worked for at least one Kennedy and in some cases remain close to the family, have publicly and privately pilloried him as a disgrace to his family whose views stand at odds with their values. His rally drew none of the state’s leading Democratic politicians.
“It’s a disservice to their long service and success in politics and antithetical to everything they stood for,” Boston-based Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh, who’s worked on Kennedy campaigns, said. “The movement Bobby Kennedy Jr. is involved in is not a Democratic one, capital ‘D’ or small ‘d’. It looks more like an effort to undermine Democrats.”
Kennedy joins self-help author Marianne Williamson in the Democratic presidential primary. Both poll far behind Biden in recent surveys. Still, Kennedy picked up 10-percent support in a Morning Consult survey from early April. And he earned the backing of 14 percent of Biden voters in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll released ahead of his Wednesday kickoff. Beyond that, he has some names he can rely on; not just his own but former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who introduced him on Wednesday at the Park Plaza Hotel.
Yet the brass band that played and the red, white and blue bunting that draped the balconies of the hotel ballroom belied any serious shot at real relevance for him.
With the absence of Kennedys — and Democrats — Kennedy surrounded himself on Wednesday with an eclectic mix of vaccine skeptics, independent voters and conservatives, several of whom had flown in from across the country and many of whom were fed up with what they characterized as a corrupt, dishonest federal government. Clad in Kennedy 2024 shirts and pins, they cast the Kennedy outcast as misunderstood, or unfairly ignored.
They waved signs that said “heal the divide” and punctured his rambling, two-hour speech with ear-piercing whistles.
Then, near the end, an emergency alarm blared telling people to evacuate.
Kennedy brushed it aside.
“Nice try,” he said, to a standing ovation.
Kelly Garrity and Sam Stein contributed to this report.
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