Republicans love RFK Jr. because his conspiracy theories are theirs
It's a short distance from "covid is a bioweapon" to "build the wall."
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“I am being censored here,” Democratic presidential challenger Robert F. Kennedy Jr. declared at a hearing Thursday on the “Weaponization of Government” held by House Republicans. But Republicans weren’t censoring Kennedy. They were enthusiastically boosting him, praising his brave, contrarian public health conspiracy theories and urging him to weigh in on the vital issue of Hunter Biden’s laptop, even though he himself admitted he knows nothing about it.
In one representative exchange, Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy — who lauded RFK Jr. during a speech at the beginning of the hearing — nodded along as RFK Jr. ticked through his familiar talking points trying to undermine vaccines, then echoed him by saying, “I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to have a polio vaccine, but I also want the truth being sought. I want to know the health impacts of the polio vaccine going forward.” (As a doctor pointed out in response, the public health impact of the polio vaccine is the eradication of polio.)
The Kennedy name is associated with the Democratic Party, but RFK Jr. is a much more comfortable fit within today’s conspiracy-addled GOP. Kennedy’s inflammatory remarks about covid, which came to light earlier this week, are a perfect example of this.
Republicans are unbothered by RFK Jr.’s latest bonkers conspiracy theory
As you’re probably aware by now, earlier this week video was uncovered showing RFK Jr. spewing antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories during a recent press event at a NYC restaurant. Kennedy in the video claimed covid is "ethnically targeted" so as "to attack Caucasian and Black people" while the "people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese." He added that he wasn't sure that the virus was "deliberately" designed to spare Jewish and Chinese people. But he implied that it might have been. Watch the footage:
Kennedy's remarks were quickly condemned by Democrats and by Kennedy's own family. As you can see below, Democrats meticulously and repeatedly embarrassed Kennedy during Thursday’s hearing by reading his own words back to him.
Republicans, though, were slower to distance themselves when they have done so at all. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul insisted in an interview that Kennedy might be right and that covid could be an ethnic bioweapon (a claim which is completely absurd). House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he didn't agree with Kennedy, but also defended the Republican invitation for his testimony. New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik went as far as to shamelessly describe RFK Jr.’s comments as “a problem in the Democratic Party party,” despite the fact that Republicans are the ones promoting him.
Republicans are probably motivated in part by strategic considerations; they hope (almost certainly futilely) that Kennedy can split the Democratic primary vote and give the GOP an advantage in the general election, or at least do some damage to Biden before flaming out. But his conspiratorial logic also dovetails with current Republican ideology. They don't want to disavow RFK Jr. because he's speaking their language.
Republicans and RFK Jr. love victimhood
That language is centered on discourses of purity under threat. The obvious example is former President Donald Trump's campaign promise to build a "great wall" across the southern US border, sealing a pure America away from the corrupting influence of immigrants. Trump's "Muslim ban" was based on similar impulses, as is the overhyped Republican panic around fentanyl.
RELATED FROM PN: No, GOP, you can’t overdose on fentanyl from touching it
You can see the same dynamics in the recent Jason Aldean country song, "Try That In a Small Town," which imagines small town heartland America as a virtuous community under siege by leftist rabble-rousers and antiracist protestors.
"Cuss out a cop, spit in his face/Stomp on the flag and light it up,” the lyrics go. “Well, try that in a small town/See how far ya make it down the road."
Kennedy's conspiracy theory about the virus fits neatly into these paranoid fears of invasion and corruption.
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