Democrats ramp up attacks on RFK Jr.: ‘He should be ashamed of himself’

Democrats are stepping up their criticism of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after he announced his pick of Nicole Shanahan for vice president Tuesday, arguing the duo will benefit former President Trump. 

Kennedy’s allies say the selection of Shanahan, a philanthropist and patent attorney, will generate buzz for the campaign heading into the general election, while also allowing him to check a necessary box in several states that require an Independent to have a running mate to qualify for their ballots.

But many pro-Biden figures in the party are criticizing Kennedy as a “spoiler” propelled by GOP funds and conspiracy theories, slamming his presidential campaign shortly after he unveiled his running mate in Oakland, Calif.

“I am personally offended and just disgusted by his campaign,” said Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during a call hosted by the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “He should be ashamed of himself. He should stop running for president.”

Democrats have disregarded Kennedy during most of the 2024 presidential cycle, speculating that he had no shot of winning the battle for the White House. While Biden’s polling is perilous for an incumbent, many in his orbit have avoided going after Kennedy in order to focus fully on Trump.

That apathy toward Kennedy, however, has morphed in recent weeks into anguish and anger. As both parties’ primaries pointed to a Biden-Trump rematch, Democrats started examining more closely the third-party candidate who could create an unpredictable and possibly unfavorable outcome for their side in November.

Tasked with enabling a second Biden victory, the DNC has become preoccupied with Kennedy in recent weeks, allotting resources to weaken his campaign and paint him as a helpful reelection tool for Trump. Just after Kennedy made his pick of Shanahan public, the DNC convened a call with elected Democrats from swing states to warn about what Kennedy’s bid could mean for Biden’s chances to beat Trump twice. 

“He’s a spoiler,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis said on the call. “He was drafted into this race by Donald Trump’s top supporters.”

“He has no realistic path to victory in Pennsylvania,” he added.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. holds a campaign event with voters in Brooklyn on August 30, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Democrats have often sought to tie Kennedy’s campaign to the Trump-aligned GOP. Kennedy himself shares some ideological turf with the MAGA movement, especially on vaccines and his critique of conventional medical and the scientific community.

Just before he announced Shanahan, a super PAC aimed at propping up Biden launched a website called The site features composite images of Kennedy and Trump merged together along with figures in the former president’s circle, such as right-wing ally Steve Bannon. 

“RFK Jr. is a MAGA-backed candidate who is bankrolled by billionaires to help reelect Donald Trump,” text on the landing page reads. “RFK Jr.'s platform is extremely dangerous: he pushes conspiracy theories that divide our country, has made millions of dollars opposing vaccines, and has a history of anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Semitic remarks.”

The super PAC, called Clear Choice, also released a new ad that aims to show his ties to Trumpism, including video footage of Kennedy saying he’s “proud” that Trump “likes” him. 

“Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Nicole Shanahan have only one chance of seeing the inside of the Oval Office: if Trump wins and invites them in to say thank you,” Matt Bennett, executive vice president for public affairs of the Democratic group Third Way, said in a statement.

As news circulated that Kennedy was slated to share his running mate on March 26, pro-Biden voices began publicly warning about how he could weaken the president on Election Day. Just a few thousand votes in critical states can sway an election that’s projected to be close, and Democrats have seen their party hampered by third-party candidates such as Green Party nominee Jill Stein in 2016.

Chris Devine, who co-wrote the book “Do Running Mates Matter?” and studies third-party campaigns, said that the relatively unknown Shanahan “is not a pick that bodes well for his campaign.”

“This was an opportunity for him to demonstrate that he could pull together an experienced team with broad appeal, and he hasn't done that,” Devine said. 

Pro-Trump Republicans have also criticized Kennedy amid concerns the Independent candidate could sap support from the former president.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a far-left radical that supports reparations, backs the Green New Deal, and wants to ban fracking. It's no surprise he would pick a Biden donor leftist as his running mate,” Alex Pfeiffer, a spokesperson for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., wrote in a statement shortly after Kennedy’s Tuesday announcement.

The criticism from Biden and Trump allies alike comes as Kennedy has demonstrated a relatively large degree of support for an Independent. In polling, he has hovered around low to mid-double digits during his campaign, getting a second look from some of the voting electorate with whom Biden is struggling, including not just Independents but also pockets of young voters and voters of color.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. right, waves on stage with Nicole Shanahan, after announcing her as his running mate, during a campaign event, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, Calif.

Kennedy has captured attention in some battlegrounds and has gotten enough signatures to compete in places including New Hampshire, Utah and Hawaii. A pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values, has said it’s also counted enough supporters in Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina and Arizona for Kennedy to compete. A recent NBC News poll revealed that 34 percent of registered voters said they might support Kennedy this cycle. 

Adding Shanahan, 38, who Kennedy called a “brilliant scientist” and a “fierce warrior mom” during his launch event, enables him to embark on what will be a drawn-out signature-collecting push during the next several months as different states require a full ticket to count.

One of Kennedy’s biggest challenges comes from his current lack of cash. Funding any large-scale presidential campaign is expensive, and even more so for the Independent, who has to go through the additional step of petitioning for names. While some close to Kennedy acknowledge that challenge, there’s optimism among his supporters that Shanahan could help give a cash infusion to get him on more ballots.

Kennedy said he chose Shanahan, in part, for her ability to “identify abuses in our government.” He also said that she has been “battle-tested” and “overcame every daunting obstacle” to achieve “the American dream.”

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Now the ex-wife of Sergey Brin, a billionaire and co-founder of Google, Shanahan could potentially go a long way toward helping Kennedy financially compete against the Democratic and Republican Party nominees, a reality that Democrats are anticipating in their attack strategies.

According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Kennedy’s campaign brought in $3.2 million in February, a figure considerably lower than that of his two rivals. His total cash on hand is just over $5 million, the FEC reports, which is unlikely to stretch throughout a multistate ballot access initiative.

Still, Democrats are fearful that with the surge of Shanahan’s money, Kennedy could come closer to getting enough votes in critical battlegrounds to swing the election. 

“Him being in the race means there is a greater likelihood that Donald Trump will be president again,” said Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who described Kennedy’s campaign as “horrifying.” 

“We can’t afford to go backwards,” she said.

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