Robert F. Kennedy Jr., running as an Independent candidate in the 2024 presidential election, has unleashed a torrent of criticism from the public and his family alike with a Super Bowl commercial in which he blatantly tried to cash in on the Kennedy dynasty’s political prestige by copying his uncle John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign ad.
The commercial, which was paid for by a PAC supporting his candidacy, used the same song, style and slogan as JFK’s ad, but replaced the images of the former president with RFK Jr. while also urging voters to “Vote Independent”.
At the steep price of $7m, it featured the same lyrics of “Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy for me” that JFK’s campaign used in a commercial ahead of his victory over Richard Nixon and its visual appearance mimics a 1960’s black and white, vintage look. It is hard to argue that there was no intention behind it of exploiting the Kennedy mystique and nostalgia.
However, running as an Independent candidate, he is incongruously laying claim to the Kennedy legacy while also breaking away from its fervent Democratic Party adherence, exploiting it for his own profit. A speechwriter for another of Kennedy’s late uncles – the former US senator Ted Kennedy – minced no words and called it outright intellectual theft. “This RFK Jr Super ad is a straight out plagiarism,” Bob Shrum wrote in part. “What a fraud.”
RFK Jr.’s problems did not end there. Some of the members of the Kennedy clan declared themselves to be shocked and appalled and were not reticent about taking their criticism public.
His cousin, Bobby Shriver, posted that his mother – JFK’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver – would be “appalled” that the commercial used images of her and her brother, especially since Robert F Kennedy Jr.’s position as a vaccination skeptic and conspiracy theorist, would have run counter to her beliefs. Shriver said of his mother that “respect for science, vaccines … [was] in her DNA”.
Others were aghast by the implicit comparison made to his uncle, John F. Kennedy, who was a socially progressive Democrat. Some of his cousins also expressed their disapproval and pain over the ad. Many in his family had already previously disassociated themselves from RFK, Jr. when he campaigned against the Covid-19 vaccine and expounded dozens of conspiracy theories.
Bobby Shriver’s brother, Mark, added in a separate post: “I agree with my brother … simple as that.”
The flak he received from his extended family led to a rare apology from RFK Jr. “I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain,” he wrote on social media late on Sunday. He added that he loved them all.
The apology seemed to be decidedly unconvincing since at the same time he disavowed any responsibility for it, saying it had been created by American Values 2024, a pro-Kennedy political action committee (Pac), “without any involvement or approval” from his presidential campaign.
Yet, while declining any responsibility for the offensive commercial, he also pinned the ad to the top of his profile, saying that his momentum was growing and that it was time for an independent president to heal the divide in the country.
Many MAGA Trump supporters are happy that RFK Jr. is running as an Independent, believing that by doing so he is taking votes away from President Biden. A DNC adviser on Friday reiterated accusations that Kennedy’s campaign is being supported by Trump’s followers, the presumptive Republican nominee.
American Values has received $15m from Tim Mellon, who is also a Trump donor.
It is not clear whether RFK Jr. can gain ballot access in enough states to mount a successful national campaign, but his effort comes in a year when many voters are dissatisfied with both presumptive candidates and the likelihood of a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.