By Jeff Louderback
In the early stages of his 2024 presidential campaign, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gained support from a broad spectrum of voters, leading to speculation that he could run as a Republican or an Independent. But at a Chicago town hall on June 28, the environmental attorney and Children’s Health Defense founder from one of America’s foremost political dynasty families said that will not happen.
“I’m a Democrat. This is who I am,” Kennedy told NewsNation host and town hall moderator Elizabeth Vargas. “This is my identity, but I want my party back.”
He said he is running for president because he believes his party “has lost its way” and he wants to “remind the Democratic Party of what we are supposed to represent.”
Among the values that Kennedy believes have been lost are “a focus on the middle class and labor, the well-being of minorities, a focus on the environment, civil liberties, and freedom of speech.”
Kennedy’s town hall appearance was well-timed, coming only hours after President Joe Biden’s “Investing in America” tour stop in Chicago to discuss “Bidenomics.”
It was Kennedy’s first town hall with a national news network, with an audience that included Democrats or Independents who are leaning Democratic. Additional audiences, watching the event in New Hampshire and South Carolina, also contributed questions.
Chicago will host the Democratic National Convention Aug. 19–22, when the party will announce its 2024 presidential nominee.
No Help From the DNC
Kennedy isn’t expected to get help from the Democratic National Committee, whose members voted at their winter meeting earlier this year to give Biden their full support.
For that reason, political strategists believe Kennedy is unlikely to secure the Democratic presidential nomination.
Still, Kennedy has the highest net favorability of all 2024 presidential candidates, a recent poll from The Economist/YouGov reported.
In the early stages of his campaign, he is receiving support from some progressives, moderates, conservatives, independents, and Libertarians.
Backing from those who are not left-leaning is also mounting because Kennedy differs from Biden and progressive Democrats on multiple issues.
At the town hall, Kennedy’s answers to questions about issues reflected stances that are not tied to one party.
An audience member who is the son of a Mexican immigrant asked Kennedy how he would address immigration. Kennedy said that he doesn’t think it is possible to get an immigration reform package through Congress until the United States can seal the border.
The candidate said that, initially, he was not in favor of former President Donald Trump’s border wall. But after seeing the border first-hand in Arizona earlier this month, Kennedy changed his mind. He said there is a need for increased infrastructure and technology at the border, including more segments of a physical wall, and sensors in areas where a wall isn’t feasible.
“Immigration is good for our country, but this kind of immigration is unfair to everybody,” he said.
About gun control, Kennedy said, “I do not believe that, within that Second Amendment, there is anything we can meaningfully do to reduce the trade and the ownership of guns.”
“Anybody who tells you that they’re going to reduce gun violence through gun control at this point, I don’t think is being realistic,” he said. “I think we have to think about other ways to reduce that violence.”
Kennedy did note that he would sign an assault weapons ban if he were president and the legislation was placed on his desk. During the town hall, he also said “there will be nobody in the Oval Office who is more supportive of LGBTQ rights than I am” and that he would legalize marijuana and psychedelic drugs—all points that many Democrats favor.
Regarding the rising cost of living, Kennedy said, “Inflation is not going to be reduced overnight. What we need to do is stop spending money on things that we can’t afford.
“We’re, you know, we’re borrowing billions of dollars today from the Chinese and the Japanese in order to fund the debt,” he said. “Debt this year is gonna cost us $660 billion.”
“We’re spending $130 billion just in the Ukraine. The entire budget at the CDC is 12 billion.,” he added.
De-Escalating the War in Ukraine
Kennedy has called for de-escalating the war in Ukraine. He explained that he is sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause, and added that Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the country illegally, but he chastised the role of the United States in the conflict.
“We have neglected many, many opportunities to settle this war peacefully,” Kennedy said. “We have turned that nation into a proxy war between Russia and the United States.”
He added that Russia has “a legitimate concern about us moving NATO into the Ukraine.”
When Vargas said, “You seem to be out of step with Democratic voters,” Kennedy replied, “If every Democrat is against me on that, I’m still going to say it.”
When asked what he thinks about Biden and Trump, his response was measured.
“Here’s what I’m not going to do in this race. I’m not going to attack other people personally,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think it’s good for our country. And what I’m trying to do in this race is bring people together, is try to bridge to divide between Americans.”
Kennedy noted that he is for “de-escalating” what he called “poison, hatred, and vitriol.”
“You won’t hear me saying bad things about President Biden. I like President Biden. I’ve known him for probably 40 years, and this campaign is not, you know, about criticizing him,” Kennedy said.
“If there’s a policy I disagree with—like the war, like censorship, the lockdowns—I’m going to criticize those, but I’m not going to attack him as a man,” he added.
‘He’s a Very Smart Guy’
Earlier this week, Trump praised Kennedy, telling radio host Howie Carr that “he’s a common sense guy and so am I. So whether you’re conservative or liberal, common sense is common sense.”
“He’s been very nice to me. I’ve actually had a very nice relationship with him over the years. He’s a very smart guy, and a good guy,” Trump said.
“I’m proud that President Trump likes me even though I don’t agree with him on most of his issues,” Kennedy said. “Because I don’t want to alienate people. I want to bring people together.
“I’m proud that all these people like me and that I have independent supporters and Democratic supporters,” he added. “Every Democrat says ‘I want to end the polarization.’ But how do you do that without talking to people that don’t agree with you? How do you do that without appealing to people? My purpose is to find the issues, values we have in common.”
When asked about the public dialogue on Hunter Biden’s substance-abuse issues, Kennedy replied:
“I don’t know anything about him other than the stuff I’ve read in the press. You know, addiction is a tragedy. I wish him and his family the best. I hope that he finds a road to recovery.”
Kennedy has been up-front about his own substance-abuse challenges and has noted that he was an addict for 14 years and still attends meetings in recovery.
Outspoken about the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccine for some in the population who were coerced to take them, and a vocal opponent of the pharmaceutical industry, Kennedy was pressed by Vargas about his stance on vaccines.
“I’ve never been anti-vaccine. And I’ve said that hundreds and hundreds of times, but it doesn’t matter because that is a way of silencing me,” he responded. “Using that pejorative to describe me is a way of silencing or marginalizing me.”
Vargas asked Kennedy if he would declare support for the Democratic nominee in 2024, including Biden.
“Of course I’m not going to do that. I don’t know what I’ll do,” Kennedy said. “Let’s see what happens in this campaign. Let’s see if people are living up to Democratic values and having debates and having discussion, and you know, talking to each other, but …”
Vargas interrupted, “Well, if that’s not happening, would you then support a Republican or run as an Independent?”
“My plan is to win this election.” Kennedy said. “And I don’t have a plan B.”