The Nepo Baby Ad

[ Posted Monday, February 12th, 2024 – 17:01 UTC ]

Family dynasties have been part of the American political scene since the very beginning. Our second president was the father of our sixth president, the two differentiated only by the middle name "Quincy." The Bush family almost had three presidents, a father and two sons, but while two of them made it to the White House (differentiated only by the extra middle name "Herbert"), the third fell short. Al Gore, who ran against George W. Bush, was also the son of a national politician (of the same name, they were "Senior" and "Junior"). It happens a lot, in other words -- American politics and nepotism have gone hand-in-hand for centuries. But I have never seen such a blatant attempt by what is now known (disparagingly) as a "nepo baby" to benefit solely from his last name as the ad for Robert F. Kennedy Junior that ran during yesterday's Super Bowl.

There were so many things about this ad that were wrong, it's hard to know where to begin. The ad was a total ripoff, for starters. The original it was based on was a television ad John F. Kennedy ran in his 1960 presidential campaign. The song was the same. The images were mostly the same, except for R.F.K. Jr.'s face replacing J.F.K.'s. And the Mad Men-era style was a serious disconnect for anyone not old enough to remember J.F.K. being president.

The ad has an extremely repetitive nature, chanting the name "Kennedy" over and over again. That was the most offensive thing about it, in fact. Not so much the repetitiveness (which was indeed annoying) but the rawness of the appeal: "Vote for him! He's a Kennedy, so he must be good!" In an age of political cynicism, this really stood out. Which is why it really should be identified from henceforth as "the Nepo Baby Ad." It's message was inescapably blunt: "Vote for me -- I have a famous father and uncle, and hey, you liked them, right?"

Some other members of the Kennedy clan have already reacted with disgust.

Bobby Shriver, the son of the former president's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, said his mother would be "appalled" by Robert Kennedy Jr.'s health care views.

"My cousin's Super Bowl ad used our uncle's faces -- and my Mother's. She would be appalled by his deadly health care views," Shriver said in a post on X of Kennedy's stance as a longtime vaccine skeptic. "Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA. She strongly supported my health care work at @ONECampaign & @RED which he opposes."

Bobby Shriver's brother, Mark Shriver, also agreed with him in a social media post.

R.F.K. Jr. apologized "if" his ad "caused anyone in my family pain," but washed his hands of any responsibility by blaming it all on the uncoordinated work of the super PAC supporting him. This super PAC used to be called the "People's Pharma Movement," back when it was just an anti-vax voice during the deadly COVID pandemic. It spent a cool $7 million on the ad, which was more than any other presidential contender was willing to pay. The super PAC has been funded to the tune of $15 million by another nepo baby, Timothy Mellon, who has also given $10 million to Donald Trump's campaign.

As a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee put it: "It's fitting that the first national ad promoting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s candidacy was bought and paid for by Donald Trump's largest donor this cycle. R.F.K. Jr. is nothing more than a Trump stalking horse in this race."

I'd use a different term (one that also harkens back to the Cold War era) -- R.F.K. Jr. is seen by the far right as a "useful idiot" who will prove to be a spoiler in the 2024 election by siphoning Democratic votes off from Joe Biden. Which could actually work -- there are plenty of people out there who don't pay the slightest attention to politics and might just vote for "a Kennedy" without knowing the slightest thing about R.F.K. Junior.

R.F.K. Jr. is not a smooth and polished politician. If you've ever heard an interview of him, you already know this. He flatly denies saying things that he actually previously said, especially on the subject of vaccines. R.F.K. Jr. has been an anti-vaxxer since long before Republicans decided it was cool, but he's now disavowing some of the more extreme things he professed not too long ago.

R.F.K. Jr. is, not to put too fine a point on it, a crank. Being a crank, however, doesn't disqualify you from running for president. Many cranks have walked this route previously, most notably H. Ross Perot. But to the best of my knowledge, no such crank has ever had as famous a name as R.F.K. Jr. to trade on before. His father Bobby Kennedy was assassinated while running for president in 1968, after all.

R.F.K. Jr. is going to be a player in the 2024 election, much to the consternation of both his other family members and the Democratic establishment as a whole. With this ad, he is showing that he is going to lean in to his famous name just to get attention. So we should expect all kinds of these gimmicks going forward. This could be just the first Nepo Baby Ad we see this cycle, to put this another way.

The best way to combat Kennedy's influence on the race would be to face it head-on. Explain to the public exactly what his views are. Expose his conspiratorial worldview. Point to his radical anti-vax past, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. Show everyone that he's a crank and that he's not his father or his uncle. Maybe cut an ad showing some average voter having to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner next to their crazy uncle -- and have the crazy uncle's dialog just be old R.F.K. Jr. quotes. End with the words: "There's one in every family, right?" That would seem to be the proper response to his: "Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy..." ad.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “The Nepo Baby Ad”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    No, highlighting that his funding comes from a pro-Trump billionaire is the best way to neutralize him. The folks who might reflexively vote “Kennedy” may not know how whacko he is but most voters understand money in American politics.

    Come to think of it this should be the top strategy to neutralize No Lables which is also funded by the right wing

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I’m really in the mood to kick somebody around, Elizabeth…

    So hurry up and post something! ;D

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:

    You mean every election isn't just "the lesser of two evils"? ;)

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    I’m really in the mood to kick somebody around...

    I volunteer as tribute. ;)

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Now THAT was funny. I was on the bus home from work tonight when I read that and I laughed out loud. My fellow bus riders just thought ... who knows what they thought. :)

    Are you sure you want me to post something? Heh.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Naw, no way I wanna fuck with you, Kick — I’m smarter than that. Clearly, you are also in the mood to kick somebody around…nice try though!

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    That you got a decent laugh out of it is music to my ears, Elizabeth!

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    And, I addressed all of your points, too! But, alas, no response from you. :(

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Yes, Elizabeth, you DID address all of my points — for ONCE! I suppose that it’s something to build on. Together. :D

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