RFK Jr. Called the Tea Party 'The Resurgence of the Confederacy'

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
May 15, 2024

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once called the Tea Party movement "the resurgence of the Confederacy," a statement that could alienate some of his newfound supporters.

Kennedy slammed the grassroots movement at the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize award dinner, where he was a keynote speaker. There, he concluded his remarks with a blistering criticism of Tea Party Republicans, who at the time comprised the most successful conservative electoral movement since the 1990s.

"Big government is a threat, but that's not what the Tea Party cares about," Kennedy said. "They just don't want to pay their taxes. And they don't want, and they don't want, a black person to be president of the United States."

Later in the speech, Kennedy said the "whole Tea Party movement came out of the nostalgia for a plantation economy."

"Why is it that they—they all came out of those, you know, those dozen southern states that were part of the Confederacy?" Kennedy said. "This is the resurgence of the Confederacy."

Such comments remain an electoral drag for Kennedy, who has built his third-party presidential bid around hopes of attracting disaffected Republican voters. Kennedy's dismissal of the Tea Party as racist may alienate those voters, many of whom share the grassroots movement's populist politics.

It's the latest stumbling block for Kennedy, a lifelong Democrat who has praised Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and socialist Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. An environmental activist, Kennedy has cheered the Green New Deal as "important" legislation and criticized former president Donald Trump for not having a "better environmental platform" than Democrats. In a bid to buck this liberal image, his campaign contracted with a former Vivek Ramaswamy staffer to help attract conservative voters, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Kennedy's Goldman Environmental Prize remarks came as Democrats faced tremendous losses in the House and the Senate. The Tea Party launched in 2010 and was credited with helping deliver the largest change in seats since the Truman administration, a wave that saw the election of Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Ron Johnson (R., Wis.).

Kennedy worked that year to elect Rubio's challenger, then-Florida governor Charlie Crist, a Republican who ran for the Senate seat as an independent. At a 2010 rally in Florida, Kennedy called Tea Party candidates "crackpots."

Kennedy's comments echo those from former president Barack Obama, for whom Kennedy campaigned in 2008. Obama called Tea Party Republicans "racist motherfuckers," Edward-Isaac Dovere reported in his 2021 book Battle for the Soul.