Robert’s presidential aspirations have roiled the Kennedy family. Ahead of his brother’s announcement in April, Chris said in an interview with POLITICO there was “robust intra-family dialogue” about Robert running. “All of us shared with him our candid thoughts. It’s what a big Irish Catholic family will do.”
The Kennedys, who have one of the most prominent names in Democratic politics, didn’t leave it there. Conversations urging him to drop out continued. Chris said members of the family confronted him at large family events at Hyannis Port and in Cape Cod. They brought it up with him over text chains and in Zoom meetings. “None of us like conflict among ourselves,” Chris said, but when they do, “it’s full contact.”
Robert’s siblings have spent months in no uncertain terms trying to get their brother out of the race. But ultimately, Chris said, “It was his decision.” Robert Kennedy Jr.’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
Biden was never in danger of losing the nomination, but Robert’s candidacy proved to be something of an embarrassment for Democrats. Robert, a longtime environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, seemed to be drawing a protest vote from Democrats, suggesting that Biden was weak going into a potential rematch with Trump.
But in Kennedy’s pivot to an independent, early polling seems to suggest that the anti-vaccine sentiments he espouses may be drawing in more Republicans than Democrats.
Chris thinks there’s something to the argument. “With Bobby no longer running in the Democratic Party, that’s taken a lot of pressure off of us,” he said. “We love our brother. We love our party. And we love our president. Ultimately, it’s better that he’s running as an independent and can impact President Trump.”
But perhaps because they belong to a party that has seen the presidency slip away before thanks to third-party spoilers, other Kennedy siblings weren’t so generous about Robert’s move.
“The decision of our brother Bobby to run as a third party candidate against Joe Biden is dangerous to our country,” Robert’s sister Rory Kennedy shared on social media channels. “We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country.” Kerry Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II and Kathleen Kennedy also signed the statement.
Chris didn’t sign on to the sentiment, seeming more optimistic that Robert’s move will help Biden.
“We’re hopeful that he pulls support from President Trump and that he helps Joe Biden in the end,” Chris said, calling his brother’s exit “a sign of strength” for Biden. “There’s no other candidate thinking about running who has as much charisma as Bobby. If Bobby couldn’t beat Biden, I don’t think anyone can.”
Chris, who runs in Chicago business circles, has tangled with politics himself. He ran for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in 2018 and lost to the current Gov. JB Pritzker. He sees early anecdotal evidence that Robert’s run is appealing to his Republican friends.
“The folks I know who are most vocal about their support for Bobby are a lot of my traditional Republican friends,” Chris said. “As a Kennedy, only Bobby, with that kind of charisma, could attract that much Republican support.”
Chris expects his brother’s campaign will come up during upcoming Thanksgiving festivities at Hyannis Port. About 120 members of the family will gather and everyone will get another chance to tell Robert what they think of his candidacy.
One family member who won’t be critical is Ethel Kennedy, the family matriarch, who “is unequivocally supportive of her children,” Chris said. “But she does have a photo of President Biden on her mantle.”