RFK Jr. Ramps Up Criticism of Trump Policies

At voter rallies and in media interviews, Mr. Kennedy has been increasingly outspoken about how he differs from former President Donald Trump.
RFK Jr. Ramps Up Criticism of Trump Policies
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at his 70th birthday party in Georgetown, Washington, on Jan. 25, 2024. (Roger L. Simon/The Epoch Times)
Jeff Louderback
2/6/2024
Updated:
2/6/2024

TUCSON, Arizona—Former President Donald Trump intended to “drain the swamp” when he took office in 2017, but he was “intimidated by bureaucrats” at federal agencies and did not accomplish that objective, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said on Feb. 5.

Speaking at a voter rally in Tucson, where he collected signatures to get on the Arizona ballot, the independent presidential candidate said President Trump was “earnest” when he vowed to “drain the swamp,” but it was “business as usual” during his term.

John Bolton, who President Trump appointed as a national security adviser, is “the template for a swamp creature,” Mr. Kennedy said.  Scott Gottlieb, who President Trump named to run the FDA, “was Pfizer’s business partner” and eventually returned to Pfizer “to collect his payoff,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy said that President Trump had more lobbyists running federal agencies than any president in U.S. history.

“You can’t reform them when you’ve got the swamp creatures running them, and I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do something different,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“I can fix this country. All of these agencies that have intimidated normal politicians, I have sued every single one of them. I’ve sued the NIH (the National Institutes of Health), the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency), and we just sued the FCC (the Federal Communications Commission) and won in the federal Court of Appeals,” Mr. Kennedy added.

In the early stages of his campaign, while running as a Democrat, Mr. Kennedy exchanged praise with President Trump.

Mr. Kennedy complimented President Trump’s debating skills and criticized President Joe Biden for not debating his Democrat primary opponents. By avoiding primary debates, President Biden would not be effectively prepared to take to the debate stage with President Trump if both men gained the nominations of their respective parties, Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times.

President Trump called Mr. Kennedy “a very smart person” and noted “he’s hit a little bit of a nerve,” “his heart is in the right place,” and “he’s doing really well.”

“Sentiments from the former president and his campaign shifted when Mr. Kennedy announced on October 9 that he was leaving the Democratic Party primary to run as an independent. Before that declaration, Mr. Kennedy had been generating support from conservatives and independents, as well as receiving backing from conservative donors.

Former President Donald Trump raises his fist as he leaves after speaking at a Commit to Caucus Rally in Las Vegas, on Jan. 27, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump raises his fist as he leaves after speaking at a Commit to Caucus Rally in Las Vegas, on Jan. 27, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump’s campaign said in a statement on Oct. 9 that “voters should not be deceived by anyone who pretends to have conservative values.”

“The fact is RFK has a disturbing background steeped in radical, liberal positions. Whether he’s a China sympathizer, denigrating gun owners, promoting business-killing green policies, or supporting on-demand abortion, an RFK candidacy is nothing more than a vanity project for a liberal Kennedy looking to cash in on his family’s name.”

Since the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Kennedy has adamantly refused to discuss President Trump’s court cases, social media conduct, and personality. All issues that critics frequently use to chastise the former president.

In recent weeks, Mr. Kennedy has explained to audiences at voter rallies and to members of the media during interviews how his policies and platform topics differ from those of President Trump.

‘Charming Guy’

“I’ve known Donald Trump for many, many for 40 years. I’ve sued him twice, successfully. During litigation, he invited me on his airplane and we had a great time,” Mr. Kennedy said during a campaign stop late last month at the University of Alabama.

“He’s a very congenial, charming guy, and he’s always been very kind to me. He’s been a big political donor to my family at various times. I stay away from the vitriol but Donald Trump as president was the architect of the COVID policies, which were destructive for the economy of our country,” Mr. Kennedy added.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump “did not ask the questions that he should have,” Mr. Kennedy believes.

President Trump “knew that lockdowns were wrong” and then “agreed to lockdowns,” Mr. Kennedy said. He also “knew that hydroxychloroquine worked, he said it,” Mr. Kennedy explained, adding that he was eventually “rolled over” by Dr. Anthony Fauci and his advisers.

Multiple national polls suggest that at least more than half of Americans do not want to see a rematch between President Trump and President Biden. Mr. Kennedy sees a path to victory because of voter discontent.

He noted at campaign stops in Las Vegas and Tucson that his favorability ratings were better than President Biden and President Trump, and he is ahead of both candidates among Americans under the age of 45 in six battleground states.

In a Gallup poll conducted from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, 2023, Mr. Kennedy led all presidential candidates with a 52 percent favorability rating, followed by President Trump at 42 percent, President Biden at 41 percent, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley at 33 percent, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 32 percent.

Mr. Kennedy and Ms. Haley had the lowest unfavorable ratings at 34 percent, whereas President Biden had the highest at 58 percent, followed by President Trump at 57 percent, and Mr. DeSantis at 52 percent.

A survey of registered voters conducted by Siena College and The New York Times, released in early November 2023, indicated that in a three-way race in six battleground states, Mr. Kennedy would receive 24 percent of the vote, President Trump would get 35 percent, and President Biden would receive 33 percent. The remainder of the respondents said they remained undecided or would not vote.

The poll included 3,662 likely voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of sampling error varies among the state polls, from plus or minus 4.4 percentage points to plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

That survey shows Mr. Kennedy leading President Biden and President Trump among voters under 45 in those six states. Mr. Kennedy registered 34 percent support among voters aged 18 to 29 compared with 30 percent for President Biden and 29 percent for President Trump.

For voters aged 30 to 44, Mr. Kennedy led with 31 percent while President Biden and President Trump each collected 30 percent.

Through Jan. 24, when factoring in all polls, President Trump (39 percent) leads a three-way race with President Biden (34 percent) and Mr. Kennedy (16.8 percent).

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks to reporters after a voter rally in Las Vegas, on Feb. 4, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/Epoch Times)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks to reporters after a voter rally in Las Vegas, on Feb. 4, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/Epoch Times)

President Trump and President Biden “had their chance” and are both responsible for the nation’s economic woes,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“Americans deserve more than choosing the lesser of two evils. Many Democrats say they are not voting for President Biden, but they are voting against President Trump, and vice versa for Republicans,” Mr. Kennedy continued.

“It’s time we have somebody who can inspire us, somebody that people actually like and want to vote for.”

‘Not Interested’ in a Trump-Kennedy Ticket

At Mr. Kennedy’s town halls and voter rallies, some voters told The Epoch Times they would like to see a Trump-Kennedy ticket.

A Jan. 27 report by The New York Post claimed that President Trump’s campaign reached out to Mr. Kennedy about the possibility of joining the ticket as a running mate.

“Trump operatives expressed an interest in Kennedy early on, but it was all premature,” the New York Post reported, citing “one person familiar with the matter.”

The communication between President Trump’s campaign and Mr. Kennedy happened  “right out of the box when Bobby announced” in April 2023 that he was seeking the Democratic Party nomination, according to the New York Post.

Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser for President Trump’s campaign, wrote on X, “This is 100% FAKE NEWS – NO ONE from the Trump Campaign ever approached RFK Jr (or ever will) – one of the most LIBERAL and radical environmentalists in the country. For all the fake news – update your stories.”

Mr. Kennedy told NewsNation that representatives from President Trump’s team “have reached out to me,” and added, “I would not take that job. I’m flattered that President Trump would offer it to me, but it’s not something that I’m interested in.”

Last summer, when The Epoch Times inquired whether he would serve as President Trump’s running mate, Mr. Kennedy jokingly said that his wife, actress Cheryl Hines, would divorce him if that were to happen. He added that he believes he has a path to victory as president and expressed disinterest in serving as a vice president.

Operation Warp Speed

COVID-19 is the topic where Mr. Kennedy and President Trump seem to differ the most.

Many Republicans continue to seek a reckoning over the government-imposed pandemic lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Although they support former President Trump, his praise of the COVID-19 vaccines and Operation Warp Speed does not resonate with them.

When it comes to the vaccine issue, many of them align with Mr. Kennedy, who remains one of the most outspoken critics of the shots’ safety.

President Trump’s defense of Operation Warp Speed, the program he rolled out in May 2020 to spur the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines amidst the pandemic, remains a sticking point for some of his supporters. These supporters now say they will vote for Mr. Kennedy in 2024.

The initiative featured a partnership between the government, the military, and the private sector, with the government paying for millions of vaccine doses to be produced.

President Trump released a statement in March 2021 saying: “I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!”

President Trump said in an interview on Fox News that without the vaccine, 100 million people might have died from COVID-19. He added that he is “very proud” of his efforts.

The former president has on many occasions said that he is not in favor of vaccine mandates.

Children’s Health Defense

An environmental attorney, Mr. Kennedy founded Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit that aims to end childhood health epidemics by promoting vaccine safeguards, among other initiatives.

Earlier this year, Mr. Kennedy told podcaster Joe Rogan that ivermectin was suppressed by the FDA so that the COVID-19 vaccines could be granted emergency use authorization.

He has criticized Big Pharma, vaccine safety, and government mandates for years.

Since launching his presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy has made his stances on the COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccines in general, a frequent talking point.

“I would argue that the science is very clear right now that they [vaccines] caused a lot more problems than they averted,” Mr. Kennedy said on Piers Morgan Uncensored in late April.

“And if you look at the countries that did not vaccinate, they had the lowest death rates, they had the lowest COVID and infection rates.”

Additional data show a “direct correlation” between excess deaths and high vaccination rates in developed countries, he said.

Mr. Kennedy’s opposition to President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has come to the forefront in recent weeks during campaign stops. Fox News wrote about The New York Post’s report and drew the ire of the former president.

On Jan. 31. Mr. Trump wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that Mr. Kennedy “is by far the most radical left person running for office, maybe ever! Look at his environmental program, and close up the USA.”

Mr. Trump included a link to a Breitbart article featuring Mr. LaCivita’s comments. Mr. Kennedy took to X and wrote a response.

“Radical is shutting down the country with no due process, pushing Operation Warp Speed on an experimental pharmaceutical product, and giving Dr. Fauci, who now admits social distancing wasn’t based on science, a Presidential Commendation. I look forward to debating our records in San Marcos on September 16,” Mr. Kennedy noted.

Kennedy and Trump Agree on Border

Mr. Kennedy and President Trump do agree on some issues. On Feb. 6, Mr. Kennedy will make another visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona.

He has said that initially, he was not in favor of President Trump’s border wall. But after seeing the border firsthand in Arizona last July, he changed his mind. He stated that 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.

Until the United States can seal the border, he said, he doesn’t think it’s possible to get an immigration package through Congress.

Mr. Kennedy first visited the Arizona–California border with Mexico in early June and met with illegal immigrants, Border Patrol agents, and other stakeholders.

“The Democratic Party thinks our function should be welcoming all immigrants into the country no matter what, and to basically open the borders. And the experiment has been a disaster, a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“I watched it firsthand. I watched 300 people come across the border and then be processed and sent to locations all over the country with court dates seven years down the road.”

He called the Biden administration’s open border policy “a way of funding a multibillion-dollar drug and human trafficking operation for the Mexican drug cartels.”

“As president, I will secure the border, which will end the cartel’s drug trafficking economy. I will build wide doors for those who wish to enter legally so that the U.S. can continue to be a beacon to the world where diversity and culture make us great,” he said.

Mr. Kennedy joined President Trump in backing Texas in its battle with the Biden administration over border authority.

“Texas is right. Biden’s failure to secure the border leaves states no choice but to take matters into their own hands,” Mr. Kennedy wrote on X.

Mr. Kennedy has also been outspoken against lawsuits intending to keep President Trump off the ballot in multiple states under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

“Colorado Supreme Court ruling makes America look like a Banana Republic. Why doesn’t every American understand that if they can do this to a former US President, EVERYONE is vulnerable to punishment for crimes with which they have never been convicted,” he wrote on X.

In another post on the platform, Mr. Kennedy wrote: “If Trump is kept out of office through judicial fiat rather than being defeated in a fair election, his supporters will never accept the result. This country will become ungovernable.”

‘Democracy Being Downgraded’

He reiterated his stance in an interview with The Epoch Times.

“I think we are seeing more and more this sinister and troubling trend of democracy being downgraded. We’re headed to a system where the elites pick our leadership,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“It’s like the old Soviet Union, where party leaders pick the leadership. Federal agencies have been weaponized as political tools against the American public to suppress anyone from running except the chosen leaders.

“I’m not a fan of Trump, but I want the American people to decide who represents them, and I want to win on a level playing field and in a fair fight, not by a judicial intervention coming in and getting rid of people they don’t like.”

President Trump appears poised to secure the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nomination while President Biden is expected by pundits to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination.

With Mr. Kennedy generating more support than many pundits originally projected, the possibility that the centrist No Labels organization could field a unity presidential ticket, and with independent Cornel West and Green Party nominee Jill Stein in the race, every percentage point will be coveted in the 2024 election.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks to supporters after a voter rally in Tucson, Arizona, on Feb. 5, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/Epoch Times)
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talks to supporters after a voter rally in Tucson, Arizona, on Feb. 5, 2024. (Jeff Louderback/Epoch Times)

A Gallup poll released in January indicated that more citizens identify as independent than Democrats or Republicans. Mr. Kennedy believes the current political landscape is ideal for electing an independent president.

“I’m in a better position right now than any independent in American history for the past 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt,” Mr. Kennedy said at his Feb. 4 campaign stop in Las Vegas.

“I’m running against the two men, each of whom, if the other one wasn’t running, would score as the least popular major party candidate to ever run for president. Many Americans say they don’t want a contest between President Biden and President Trump, and people are starting to see that this is a three-person race,” he continued.

“We have nine months to go, and our momentum continues to build,” Mr. Kennedy added. “People are recognizing that I can win this election.”

Jeff Louderback covers news and features on the White House and executive agencies for The Epoch Times. He also reports on Senate and House elections. A professional journalist since 1990, Jeff has a versatile background that includes covering news and politics, business, professional and college sports, and lifestyle topics for regional and national media outlets.