Is RFK Jr. moving to the left in his campaign for the Democrat presidential nomination?
On Tuesday, May 16, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who declared his candidacy for the Democrat presidential nomination last April 19, appeared for (at least) the fourth time for a live interview on the FOX News channel. On this occasion, he was in-studio for the first time, in Washington, D.C. on Bret Baier's nightly Special Report broadcast at 6 P.M. E.T. (video here).
On each of these FOX News channel interviews, Kennedy — who is largely considered persona non grata by the rest of the MSM — has been accorded a respectful and uninterrupted chance to state his positions and answer serious questions. In his first three interviews on FOX News (with Tucker Carlson, Neal Cavuto, and Sean Hannity), Kennedy appeared to take the high road toward unifying the nation, eschewing any mention or criticism of President Trump, likely aiming to expand his base to include Republicans and independents.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Bret Baier on FOX News's Special Report, May 16, 2023.
Yesterday, however, apparently for the first time during a live appearance on FOX, he dropped a brief, subtle, but unmistakably less than positive reference to President Trump:
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In 1970, 62 percent of income in this country went to the middle class, today, 42 percent. In 1970, 29 percent of income went to the super rich. Today, it's 50 percent. And that was aggravated, of course, by the pandemic, where we created a new billionaire every day, which was Donald Trump's pandemic lockdown. [emphasis added.]
This appears to be a shift in Kennedy's pitch. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Kennedy, using his Children's Health Defense organization, has emerged as a vigorous critic of mandated vaccinations, lockdowns, masks, and the influence of former director of the National Institutes of Health's Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, M.D. — who served as the influential COVID-19 czar under Presidents Trump and Biden.
Shunned by his former associates on the left, Kennedy has often appeared on platforms with some notable MAGA stalwarts, in particular Lieutenant Gen. Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
During the first month of his fledgling presidential campaign, RFK Jr.'s appeal as a candidate has been as a populist. Many of his positions have seemed to be compatible with President Trump's. But now a distinction seems to be emerging.
In addition to his attributing the lockdown to President Trump, Kennedy, speaking to Bret Baier yesterday, expanded his view of how he would address the woes of the middle class.
KENNEDY: We created 500 new billionaires [during COVID]. We shifted $4 trillion in wealth from the American middle class to the super rich, and we shut down 3.3 million businesses. That — those trends are — were continued by the Biden administration.
And I think a lot of Americans want somebody who's really going to start listening to the middle class, understanding the desperation that so many Americans feel, and that is going to do something about it. ...
We have sent $113 billion to Ukraine, and the entire budget of EPA is $12 billion. The budget of the CDC is $12 billion; 57 percent of Americans could not put their hands on $1,000 if they have an emergency; 25 percent of Americans are hungry.
We have a crisis right here in this country. And I think a lot of Americans are feeling like they're tired of the forever wars. They're tired of this being a warfare state abroad and a surveillance state at home, and they want to get rid of the surveillance here, the wars abroad, close the 800 bases, or many of them, that we have abroad.
We're spending $1.1 trillion a year on military — on a stealth bomber that costs a billion dollars and can't fly in the rain. We should take that money and build schools in this country, invest in infrastructure, create jobs here. [emphasis added.]
Our real national strength is going to come from economic power and a robust economy and a robust middle class, and not from projecting military power abroad.
First off, Kennedy has inflated the amount of money that is spent on the U.S. military. Numerous credible sources place it at between about $800 and $850 billion during this fiscal year. While some of his comments might be compatible with a conservative's view of the world, others raise concern — for example, his apparent proposal to cut the military budget and invest more in domestic spending. As President Trump illustrated by his policies, decreasing unnecessary regulations and allowing the private sector to thrive helped to turbo-charge the economy to new heights — to "lift all boats," as it were.
Another quibble can be raised with this comment:
KENNEDY: The Democratic Party at this point has become the party of war, which we have never been before.
Say what? The ignominious Vietnam War, which admittedly had its early roots with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sending aid and American advisers to South Vietnam in the 1950s, escalated considerably when Democrat President John Kennedy assumed office in 1961 and led to an enormous, unprecedented buildup of American troops and spending starting in 1964 under Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson.
It remains to be seen if RFK Jr. can expand his support from his initial ranking in early polls that placed his support among Democrats at around twenty percent. His road will be uphill (which explains why he appears on FOX News), as the entire lineup of mainstream media considers him as toxic as President Trump.
WGBH in Boston, the tax-supported National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service flagship affiliate station, for example, ran an article and a segment on April 21, 2023 titled "How the press can ethically report on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s presidential run":
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a scion of one of America's best-known political families. His uncle was President John F. Kennedy, and his father, Robert F. Kennedy, was a U.S. senator and attorney general. But RFK Jr. is also an infamous conspiracy theorist known for his incendiary fearmongering about COVID-19 restrictions, vaccines, 5G technology and Bill Gates.
Now, RFK Jr. is running for president — and one new poll shows he's attracting a surprisingly large amount of support from people who supported Joe Biden in 2020.
Between that, his penchant for spreading disinformation, and the fact that confidantes of former President Donald Trump have publicly identified RFK Jr. as a political asset, how should the media cover his campaign moving forward? Adam Reilly talks it through with Erin Tiernan, author and editor of the political newsletter MASSterList, who reported on Kennedy's kickoff, and UMass Boston political scientist Erin O'Brien, who contends there's good reason for the press to focus its attention elsewhere.
With "reporting" like that, typical of the rest of the MSM (with the sole exception of FOX News), it's not difficult to sympathize with Kennedy — although one needs to follow the evolution of his candidacy closely to see what takes shape and what kind of role he might play when the race gets serious in 2024.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who has covered national politics and the politics and economics of health care, popular culture, and media for over five decades. His web page with links to his work is http://peter.media. Peter's extensive American Thinker archive: http://tinyurl.com/pcathinker. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.