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What’s “Bobby’s" appeal? RFK Jr. supporters weigh in at Royal Oak fundraiser

Robert F. Kennedy junior slightly leaning to one side and with a hand in one pocket as he grips a microphone on stage at the Royal Oak Music Theatre on Sunday, April 21st, 2024.
Tyler Scott
Michigan Public
Kennedy addressed the crowd at the comedy show fundraiser for roughly 20 minutes. Supporters who bought the priciest tickets were also invited to an after-party at a nearby restaurant.

Freshly anointed to the Michigan ballot as the presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party, environmental lawyer and vaccine-doubter Robert F. Kennedy Jr. hosted a fundraiser comedy show for supporters Sunday at the Royal Oak Music Theatre and cast himself as a vehicle for populist change outside of the nominees of the two major political parties.

Kennedy said President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have spent too much, and done too little to bring down the national debt, which currently over $34 trillion. (The Biden White House recently announced its proposed budget would cut the federal deficit by an estimated $3 trillion over the next 10 years.)

Kennedy pitched himself as an American isolationist who would “wind down the war machine” and bring radical transparency and accountability to the White House.

“The day that I get (inaugurated) I’m going to issue an executive order saying, if you’re a government official and you lie to Americans, you’re gonna lose your job,” Kennedy said. “I’m going to put the entire U.S. budget on blockchain so that any American can look at every budget item.”

(Some federal spending data is available at usaspending.gov -- the site claims more than 100 federal agencies submit financial data on a monthly basis)

Rarely mentioned was Kennedy’s notable history of opposing various vaccines and spreading vaccine skepticism. Comedian Rob Schneider used a crude metaphor about a woman rejecting one particular man's sexual advances to suggest his and Kennedy’s rejection of the COVID vaccine did not mean they were disinterested in every other vaccine.

There is broad scientific consensus the covid vaccines are safe.

In the past, Kennedy has also promoted the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism. The theater was mostly full of supporters the campaign says paid between $47 (for a student ticket) to $1,000 for access to the comedy show, plus an after-party at a nearby bar. Media was not allowed to attend the after-party. But a few supporters in attendance were willing to share their thoughts on the evening, and Kennedy’s candidacy, with Michigan Public.

Shannon Bertuch, from Grosse Pointe:

Bertuch said she likes the idea of having someone with a professional background in environmentalism in the White House. (Kennedy is an environmental lawyer.) She’s concerned about regulating the environmental impacts of fracking and preserving unpolluted groundwater supplies. In less than 20 years the U.S., via fracking, has become a leader in production of Liquified Natural Gas. The Environmental Protection agency says fracking can, “under some circumstances” pollute drinking water.

“We have (Kennedy), an environmental attorney who didn’t need to step up, and he knows all the agencies,” Bertuch said. “He knows exactly where to go to fix these structural problems, and nobody else has claimed to do that.”

Bertuch said she comes from a family of democratic voters, but has voted for Independent candidates like Jill Stein in the past. Bertuch said she thought Kennedy was the “crackpot” of his family, until she started listening to his speeches and interviews.

The environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council and its Action Fund recently published a letter denouncing Kennedy’s campaign for concerns he will play “spoiler” and sway the presidential election to former President Donald Trump, whom the group says is "the single worst environmental president our country has ever had."

Paul Wagenknecht, from Grosse Pointe:

Wagenknecht is neighbors with Bertuch. She credits him for getting her interested in Kennedy’s campaign.

“I saw him online and I think what interested me with him was he seemed very honest,” Bertuch said. “And he discussed the issues with intelligence. It wasn’t soundbites, and it wasn’t polarization.”

During his remarks Sunday, Kennedy accused Biden and Trump, and their parties, of benefitting from political polarization and spending too much time posturing on culture war issues rather than those of shared concern to all Americans, using the federal deficit as his chief example.

“Let’s figure out a way to focus on being Americans rather than Republicans and Democrats,” Kennedy said, though he did not explain how his administration would pay down the deficit.

Ron Cash, from Troy:

Cash said he doesn’t trust most politicians, but he trusts Kennedy,

“Simply because of how he’s willing to go against the grain, you know, by calling out the vaccine mandate madness that went down in this country.”

Kennedy has repeatedly questioned the safety of COVID vaccines. He has resisted being called an “anti-vaxxer” but in July 2021 said “there is no vaccine that is safe and effective.” This defies broad scientific consensus.

Josh Cosner, from the Lansing area:

Cosner, who said he’s not allied to any party as a voter, resonates with Kennedy’s rhetoric regularly blaming corporations and rich elites for many of the problems facing American society, from rising healthcare costs to involvement in foreign wars and conflicts. He’s no fan of Biden or Trump.

“I think (Kennedy) is literally almost everything I want — almost everything,” said Cosner. “It’s definitely a big bonus that the other two guys are like a different flavor of the same (elitist power structure).

The one issue where Cosner says he doesn’t align with Kennedy? Support for Israel.

In a March interview with Reuters, Kennedy reaffirmed support for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, blaming Hamas for the war and calling Israel a “moral nation” that didn’t choose to be drawn into conflict.

Ballot access:

Kennedy campaign Press Secretary Stefanie Spear acknowledged being nominated by the Natural Law Party saved time and money. The campaign no longer has to submit thousands of signatures to the Michigan department of state by mid-July. Kennedy is already on the ballot.

The Natural Law Party has ballot access by virtue of a regulation that stipulates minor parties retain ballot access on General Election ballots in Michigan so long as any of a minor party’s candidates in the previous general election “received at least 1% of the total number of votes cast for the winning candidate for the office of Secretary of State in the previous election at which a secretary of state was elected."

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.