Inside RFK Jr.'s Political Bromance With Rand Paul

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Sen. Rand Paul (RFK Jr./Facebook)
May 28, 2024

Senator Rand Paul endorsed former President Donald Trump in both of the latter’s presidential campaigns. It’s not clear if the Kentucky Republican will do so a third time—and a budding friendship could explain why.

In recent months, Paul has cozied up to third-party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a source familiar with the matter told the Washington Free Beacon. Kennedy has had several closed-door meetings in Paul’s Senate office, and is advised by Paul’s chief strategist and former chief of staff, Doug Stafford. Stafford also served as a senior adviser to Paul’s failed 2016 presidential campaign and executive director of Paul’s political action committee.

Kennedy's campaign has paid Stafford at least $30,000 for "campaign consulting," according to federal records.

Neither Stafford nor the Kennedy campaign responded to a request for comment.

Paul promised the Trump campaign an endorsement earlier this year, according to one individual familiar with the discussion. His failure to do so has become a source of frustration in Trump’s orbit and among Republican leaders pushing for a unified party ahead of November’s election, according to conversations with multiple senior GOP officials.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns are concerned about Kennedy’s entrance into the race. But Kennedy has been clear that he believes he takes "more votes" from Trump, and hired a former Vivek Ramaswamy staffer to help attract conservative voters. Polling is unclear on the question, although both camps are spending money to paint Kennedy as a spoiler against their preferred candidate. Trump in April called Kennedy a "wasted protest vote" and a "Democrat ‘Plant’." 

Trump pitched himself to voters at the Libertarian Party convention in Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend. In a speech, Trump pledged to appoint a libertarian to his cabinet, and to pardon Ross Ulbricht, founder of the online drug marketplace Silk Road and a libertarian cause célèbre.

Kennedy received just over 2 percent of delegates at the convention. His staff has been meeting with Libertarian Party officials in the hopes of using their party to gain ballot access in 38 states. So far, Kennedy’s name will only appear on the ballot in six.

In February, Kennedy endorsed Paul for Senate majority leader and called him someone "who will prioritize wellness over all else." A review of Paul’s X feed shows several posts boosting Kennedy. He appeared on the latter’s podcast in April to discuss the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.

Four months prior, Kennedy shared a post about a "wonderful talk" he had with Paul "about issues we share in common—restoring free speech and ending forever wars, chronic disease epidemics, agency capture, and government waste."

Both are skeptical of vaccines, although Paul said in 2015 that "I had all of my children vaccinated." And while both oppose the United States’ economic embargo against Cuba, only Kennedy maintained a warm personal relationship with the late Cuban strongman Fidel Castro.

That’s largely where the similarities end between Paul, a libertarian, and Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat, who spent most of his career as an environmental activist. A critic of fossil fuels, Kennedy has called the Green New Deal "important" legislation, while Paul said the effort is an "all-out assault on our way of life in Kentucky."

Kennedy has long called for the elimination of coal mining in particular. Writing for the New York Times in 2014, Kennedy said Kentucky politicians were "servile cogs in a destructive machine" who are beholden to "King Coal." In 2009, Kennedy called Kentucky voters "impoverished and alienated."

"King Coal is now accomplishing what the glaciers could not—obliterating the hemisphere's oldest, most biologically dense and diverse forests," Kennedy wrote in an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And government claims of doing everything possible to halt the holocaust are simply not true."

Paul is a persistent thorn in the Environmental Protection Agency’s side, having cosponsored numerous amendments that would slash the agency’s budget and dramatically curtail its authority.

His new friend, meanwhile, promises to be "the best environmental president in American history" and has addressed his supporters from a tree as evidence. On his campaign website, Kennedy touts his legal victories against "hundreds of corporations and government agencies," and slams Trump for undoing "dozens of environmental rules for big polluters."

It was coal, Paul said in 2016, that led to his first endorsement of Trump. In a local radio interview that year, Paul said Hillary Clinton would "put coal miners out of business."

"We’ve lost 10,000 jobs," Paul said. "So I think it’s almost the patriotic duty of anybody in Kentucky to oppose the Clintons because I think they’re rotten at the core, I think they're dishonest people."

Kennedy endorsed Clinton in that race. He also called himself a "huge admirer" of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).

"RFK Jr. is a radical leftist—an environmental whack job who loves EV mandates, wants to end gasoline powered engines," Trump campaign senior adviser Steven Cheung told the Free Beacon in an email statement. "He’s no Independent."

Coal isn’t the only potential sticking point between the newly minted allies. Kennedy in 2014 slammed the Tea Party as "the resurgence of the Confederacy." Paul was a prominent figure in the Tea Party movement and author of the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington, in which he said the Tea Party "reflect[s] the values of individual freedom that have always made America great."

"No matter how much the establishment would love to control and manipulate this movement, its political narrative is dictated by the grass roots, not the other way around," Paul wrote. "The ‘rabble’ has spoken and the establishment must now listen—whether they like it or not."

Paul, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, has yet to weigh in on the November election other than to say earlier this year that "I don’t think any informed or knowledgeable libertarian or conservative should support Nikki Haley."

Haley said on Wednesday that she intends to vote for Trump this November.