Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, announced on Monday that he will run for president as an independent candidate, ending his unsuccessful challenge to President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary.
Kennedy, who is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and the son of assassinated 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, made the announcement at a rally in Philadelphia, where he invoked the spirit of the American Revolution and criticized the corruption and rigging of both major parties.
“I’m here to declare myself an independent candidate for president of the United States,” Kennedy said to cheers from his supporters. “We all recognize that there’s a genuine possibility of national transformation and its source is the goodness in the American people.”
Kennedy’s decision to leave the Democratic Party and pursue a third-party bid comes as a shock to many political observers, who see him as a potential spoiler in the 2024 race that is likely to feature a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Kennedy has been polling at around 14 percent nationally when included as a third option with Biden and Trump, according to two recent surveys. That puts him close to the 15 percent threshold required to qualify for the presidential debates, which no independent candidate has achieved since Ross Perot in 1992.
Kennedy’s support comes from a diverse and unconventional coalition of voters, who are drawn to his anti-establishment message and his controversial views on issues such as vaccines, Ukraine, and 9/11. He has also cultivated relationships with some prominent figures on the far right, such as Trump, who praised him as “a very smart guy” in July.
However, Kennedy’s independent bid also faces significant challenges, such as securing ballot access in all 50 states, raising enough money to compete with the major party candidates, and overcoming the legal and institutional barriers that favor the two-party system.
Kennedy’s move has also provoked criticism and dismay from many Democrats, who fear that he will siphon votes away from Biden and help Trump win a second term. Some of Kennedy’s own family members have denounced him for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories, especially about vaccines and Covid-19.
Biden’s allies have dismissed Kennedy’s campaign as unserious and dangerous, and have urged voters to reject his divisive rhetoric and false claims. A Democratic National Committee spokesman responded with an eye roll emoji when asked for comment on Kennedy’s independent run.
Kennedy is not the only independent candidate who is eyeing the 2024 race. Cornel West, the progressive activist and philosopher, recently announced that he will run as an independent after leaving the Green Party. Meanwhile, No Labels, a centrist group that advocates for bipartisanship, is reportedly seeking a moderate candidate to run on a unity ticket.
The emergence of these independent candidates reflects the widespread dissatisfaction and polarization among American voters, who are increasingly disillusioned with both major parties and their leaders. Whether any of them can break through the two-party duopoly and offer a viable alternative remains to be seen.