Robert F. Kennedy Jr. formally launched a long shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on Wednesday, criticizing COVID-19 lockdowns, the media, and government institutions.
Kennedy — the son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy — is hoping his family's name recognition and reputation boosts him in the polls as he challenges Joe Biden, but he will likely face hurdles in the Democratic primary over his decades-long anti-vaccine stance.
For nearly 20 years, Kennedy has built a reputation as a vaccine critic, an issue that brought out many of his supporters to his launch event in Boston on Wednesday.
But he spent much of his time onstage discussing his career as an environmental lawyer and his fight against "corporate crony capitalism" and polluters in New York’s Hudson Valley.
"I'm not an ideal presidential candidate, for normal times," Kennedy said.
Nearly an hour into his speech, he turned the subject to the government's COVID response, joking that he was only halfway done. "This is what happens when you censor somebody for 18 years."
He blamed Trump for the pandemic lockdowns, which he said equated to "a war on the poor" and on children. He also expressed skepticism over U.S. aid to Ukraine and the government's steps to guarantee depositors' funds at Silicon Valley Bank after its collapse.
Kennedy made the announcement in Boston’s Plaza hotel, a popular site for Democratic candidates, though few other members of the party joined him, and just two of his siblings.
He was introduced by former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and a former state legislator from New York, and invoked his father’s underdog 1968 campaign to say that the lack of establishment support freed him to tell the truth.
"I know most American families, they never have any differences with each other," Kennedy joked.
Other prominent members of the Kennedy family have criticized his vaccine views and endorsed Biden for president.
Kennedy's crowd stretched across the hotel’s second floor event space, with hundreds of attendees, who'd paid at least $5 to enter. Shirts with Kennedy’s logo sold for $25, and supporters waved signs with his campaign slogan — "Heal the divide."
In 2017, Kennedy said he met with Trump about possibly leading a new vaccine-related commission that was never created.
Last year he compared COVID-19 restrictions to the Holocaust, prompting an apology. In 2021, he wrote a book titled "The Real Anthony Fauci," that purports to reveal a conspiracy between Fauci, Bill Gates, and the media to "flood the public with fearful propaganda" about COVID-19.