Alyssa Farah Griffin: RFK Jr. Isn’t Just an Anti-Vaxxer, He’s a Gaslighting Fraud

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is gearing up to gaslight his way through the 2024 presidential race.

This week, CNN’s Erin Burnett pressed Kennedy on Americans’ concerns that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy, to which he replied, “I could make the argument that President Biden is the much worse threat to democracy.” He went on to claim Biden is using the federal government to censor political speech and his opponents.

The interview was appropriately met with outrage and mockery. Kennedy later claimed in a NewsNation interview that he didn’t actually say Biden is a bigger threat to democracy, he was merely saying he could argue it.

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But even that argument is absurd and patently false. It also appears to be personal. Kennedy apparently still holds a grudge over his Instagram being suspended in 2021 for spreading misleading public health information after Biden administration officials flagged the material to Meta.

What’s wild is that Trump was notorious for complaining to tech platforms while he was president about content he didn’t like and moderation he didn’t agree with. I was in Trump’s dining room in May 2020 when he phoned Mark Zuckerberg directly to complain about the perception he was being censored. On a number of other occasions, Trump officials tried to have content critical of the former president removed. There’s a well-documented history of Trump allies trying to have unfavorable content censored.

But all that pales in comparison to the very real threat Donald Trump poses to democracy. Trump literally tried to throw out the results of a democratic election that would have resulted in disenfranchising 80 million American voters. He incited an attack on Congress to stop the certification of the election. He attempted to compel public officials to thwart the election. The contrast couldn’t be more glaring.

RFK Jr. knows this. But he’s playing a dangerous game, trying to court just enough of the right and the left away from two historically unpopular presidential candidates and speaking out of both sides of his mouth to do it.

Politicians lying for political gain is nothing new, nor is a politician moderating past extreme positions to appeal to a broader electorate outside of the norm of politics. Donald Trump has made an artform out of lying and claiming he never did or said things that he did. Kennedy’s just co-opting the former president’s shamelessness.

A longtime, prominent vaccine skeptic, Kennedy declared, “There’s no vaccine that is safe and effective,” in a 2023 podcast interview. He has long espoused the debunked theory that vaccines can cause autism. As recently as 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he declared that when he sees someone carrying a baby he warns, “Better not get him vaccinated.” (Normal stuff.)

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That’s just a small sampling of his vaccine-skeptical rhetoric in recent years.

Yet Kennedy with a totally straight face appeared before a congressional committee in July 2023 and claimed, “I have never been anti-vaxx. I have never told the public to avoid vaccination.” When pressed by PBS’ Amna Nawaz on his claim that no vaccine is safe and effective, Kennedy outright claimed, “I never said that.”

What’s notable about Kennedy’s gaslighting and real-time pivoting is the why of it. Kennedy is in a unique position to potentially take support from both the Republican nominee for president and the Democratic nominee. And it remains an open question whether it’s Biden or Trump he will take more support from.

RFK Jr. may very well be the most consequential third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1996, currently polling nationally at around 10 percent.

Both Biden and Trump camps are aware of his potential as a spoiler—for either side. Biden allies are working overtime to frame RFK Jr. as a fringe crypto right-winger, while the Trump camp has declared him a left-winger for his history of environmentalism and his embrace of the liberal Kennedy dynasty’s name. (Most of the Kennedy family has denounced his candidacy and openly supported President Biden’s re-election.)

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According to his super PAC, RFK Jr. has enough signatures to appear on the presidential ballot in three critical swing states: Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan. In Wisconsin, his supporters are launching an effort to get him on the ballot before the Aug. 6 deadline.

Kennedy is very clearly dropping Easter eggs to both the right and left on key issues to try to garner support, and perhaps hoping they’ll either miss or not care about his extreme views aligned with the other party.

He is uniquely positioned to be a spoiler in the most consequential presidential contest of the last 50 years, where democracy is very much on the ballot and it is not Joe Biden who is threatening it.

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