Anti-vaxxer, conspiracy theorist and Kennedy family black sheep Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has a long track record of back-tracking his way around public life, spouting problematic and often dangerous viewpoints in public only to quickly reverse course in the wake of criticism or claim he was just offering an alternate perspective.
He’s demonstrated this pattern in increasingly befuddling ways over the years, from suggesting that the C.I.A. killed his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, to claiming Republicans stole the 2004 election from John Kerry to his vaccine skepticism. The latter is perhaps what he is best known for.
Kennedy has pushed medically and scientifically discredited claims that childhood vaccines cause autism and has been booted from some social media platforms for circulating junk science and since-retracted studies linking vaccines to unrelated medical issues. And he used his platform as the face of the anti-vaccine movement to spread conspiracy theories and to demonize the COVID-19 vaccine for much of the pandemic.
He’s tried to elevate similar theorized-but-debunked correlations between antidepressants and school shootings and exposure to chemicals and gender dysphoria, as well, all justified by a disingenuous shrug at “medical freedom.”
But on the anti-vaccine front, Kennedy has routinely raised conspiracy theories and publicly pushed debunked studies on the dangers of vaccines only to later claim that he is “not anti-vaccine” but rather wants to make vaccines safe. The ongoing about-face was on full display during a rally in 2022 when he compared vaccination records for tracking COVID vaccination status to Nazi Germany. He later apologized for that comparison.
Recently his penchant for backtracking when clarifying bombastic public claims reached comedic heights. Per The Guardian:
In an interview with the Free Press, Kennedy was asked how he thought his father and uncle would tackle challenges facing America today.
“I do meditations every day,” Kennedy said. “That’s kind of the nature of my meditations. I have a lot of conversations with dead people.”
“In a follow-up text,” the Free Press said, Kennedy clarified: “They are one-way prayers for strength and wisdom. I get no strategic advice from the dead.”
Elements of his quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination in 2024 follow this pattern. For example, over the weekend Kennedy found himself stumbling to plant his flag on an issue that has been tripping up Republicans for months as well: where he stands on a national abortion ban.
During an exchange with an NBC News reporter at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, Kennedy said, “I believe a decision to abort a child should be up to the women during the first three months of life,” but added: “Once a child is viable, outside the womb, I think then the state has an interest in protecting the child.” He then went on to say that he would support a national ban on abortion at 15-weeks or possibly 21-weeks, only for his campaign to later clarify that he does not, in fact, support any type of federal restrictions on the procedure.
“Today, Mr. Kennedy misunderstood a question posed to him by a NBC reporter in a crowded, noisy exhibit hall at the Iowa State Fair,” his campaign said. “Mr. Kennedy’s position on abortion is that it is always the woman’s right to choose. He does not support legislation banning abortion.”
For what it’s worth, he has expressed support for abortion previously. During a town hall in New Hampshire earlier this summer he said he was “pro-choice,” adding: “I’m not going be in a position, put myself in a position, where I am going to tell a woman to bring a child to term.”
But, as Republicans have learned, expressing any type of support for federal restrictions on the procedure could be deeply damaging to any 2024 candidate, as such restrictions at a state level, even in red states, has proven to be highly unpopular among Democratic, Independent and even Republican voters.
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