Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist, announced Monday that he would withdraw from the Democratic presidential nomination campaign and run as an independent.
The election next year will almost certainly be a rematch between President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump.
In a close race, though, a third-party candidate siphoning even a few votes from Biden in battleground states might spell disaster for the Democrat.
Many observers believe Kennedy, a long-time propagator of public health misinformation and a favorite of the right-wing US media, would siphon more votes away from Trump than Biden.
“I’ve come here today to declare our independence from the tyranny of corruption which robs us of affordable lives, our belief in the future, and our respect for each other,” the son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of John F. Kennedy told supporters in Philadelphia.
“But to do that, I must first declare my own independence: Independence from the Democratic Party, from all other political parties.”
The 69-year-old former environmental lawyer has long identified as a Democrat and invoked his assassinated father in an anecdote about the 1968 campaign trail.
“I haven’t made this decision lightly. It’s very painful for me to let go of the party of my uncles, my father, my grandfather and both of my great-grandfathers,” he added.
However, in opinion surveys, he has proven to be more popular among Republicans than Democrats, and he was performing at less than 15% in key primary polls – 47 points behind Biden.
Kennedy, who has been embraced by far-right conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn, has claimed that AIDS may not be caused by HIV and that wifi causes cancer and “leaky brain.”
He has blamed antidepressants for school shootings and claimed that toxins in drinking water may cause children to become transgender.
In July, he sparked outrage by claiming that Covid-19 was “ethnically targeted” towards Caucasians and Black people while ignoring Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
Last week, liberal academic Cornel West ended his Green Party candidacy in favor of an independent run. Many Biden allies see the 70-year-old African American philosopher as a bigger threat than Kennedy.
Four of Kennedy’s siblings nevertheless released a statement calling his announcement “dangerous” and “deeply saddening.”
“Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment,” they said.
Republicans called Kennedy a “Democrat in Independent’s clothing.”
“He is your typical elitist liberal and voters won’t be fooled,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.