Despite Super Bowl Ad, RFK Jr. Is No JFK

The instantly infamous Super Bowl ad by RFK Jr.’s super-PAC.
Photo: @RobertKennedyJr/X

You don’t have to hold a particularly negative opinion of the independent presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to see that mistaken identity is his chief political asset. By any objective measure, the conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxx advocate does not share his renowned family’s deep association with the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Yet the very name “Kennedy” still evokes warm feelings among many voters who otherwise would not consider supporting a politician with RFK Jr.’s views, particularly if they are low-information voters not familiar with those views. This was very clearly the target audience for the lavishly expensive ($7 million for 30 seconds) ad his American Values super-PAC ran during the 2024 Super Bowl:

Some descriptions of the spot describe it as having “mirrored” a 1960 ad for Kennedy’s uncle, the 35th president of the United States. That understates the appropriation of the martyred president’s political legacy. It uses the audio and most of the vintage images from a 1960 JFK ad with the face of RFK Jr., the family’s fourth presidential candidate, pasted in.

The blowback from the Kennedy family was unsurprising. Bobby Shriver, the candidate’s cousin, responded:

Two of Bobby Shriver’s siblings co-signed; Maria Shriver retweeted the post and Mark Shriver said, “I agree with my brother @bobbyshriver simple as that.”

By Monday morning, RFK Jr. had issued an apology coupled with a disclaimer:

Give me a break. If Kennedy truly wanted the super-PAC to avoid this sort of identification with Kennedys past, he could have made that clear from the beginning of his candidacy without any sort of coordination (though for what it’s worth, even before the ad, the Democratic National Committee was accusing the Kennedy campaign of illegal coordination with American Values in ballot-access efforts). The sincerity of Kennedy’s apology was also undercut by his continuing promotion of the ad via a pinned tweet on X. It obviously represents a very big bet by backers of his candidacy (conspicuous among them major Trump donor Timothy Mellon, who gave American Values $15 million during 2023) that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents can be lured away from Joe Biden by an invocation of happy days that are here again.

Even on its own terms, the Super Bowl ad makes no sense. The 1960 jingle touts “Kennedy” as a “man for president who’s seasoned through and through,” an allusion to JFK’s experience in the House and Senate. RFK Jr. has never held public office. The ad audio also refers to the candidate as “a man who’s young enough to know and old enough to do,” since JFK’s age (43) was an issue in the campaign. RFK Jr. is 70.

There’s virtually no respect in which today’s ex-Democrat Kennedy is congruent with the Democratic presidential nominee in 1960. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s rebuke of Dan Quayle’s self-comparison to JFK in a 1988 vice-presidential debate, RFK Jr. is “no Jack Kennedy.” He needs to come up with his own campaign ads reflecting his own bizarre worldview.

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