Many Republicans Find Ally in RFK Over Vaccines, but Remain Loyal to Trump
Many Republicans Find Ally in RFK Over Vaccines, but Remain Loyal to Trump

By Jeff Louderback

Many Republicans are still wanting a reckoning over the government-imposed lockdowns, the mask mandates, and particularly the vaccine mandates. While they support former President Donald Trump, they don’t resonate with his praise of his vaccine program, Operation Warp Speed, and the COVID-19 vaccines.

When it comes to the vaccines, many of them align with independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who remains one of the most outspoken critics of the shot’s safety.

Pundits and voters are at odds about whether the issue will play a role in determining if President Trump returns to the White House, or if his stance will shift support to Mr. Kennedy, who is running as an independent candidate.

In a three-way general election Quinnipiac poll conducted on Nov. 1, Mr. Kennedy pulled more votes from President Trump than President Joe Biden, flipping what would have been a narrow victory for President Trump to a win for President Biden. The scenario repeated when independent candidate Cornel West was added to the hypothetical ballot.

President Trump maintains a commanding lead among Republican presidential candidates in every national poll.

Mr. Kennedy is a favorite among independents and voters under the age of 45. President Biden dominates the Democratic field.

President Trump’s defense of Operation Warp Speed, the program he rolled out in May 2020 to spur COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution amidst the pandemic, remains a sticking point for some of his supporters who now say they will vote for Mr. Kennedy in 2024.

Vice President Mike Pence (L) and President Donald Trump deliver an update on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Nov. 13, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The initiative featured a partnership between the government, military, and private sector. The government paid for millions of vaccine doses to be produced.

MaryJo Perry, a longtime advocate for vaccine choice and a President Trump supporter, thinks votes will be at a premium come Election Day, particularly because the independent field is becoming more competitive. Besides Mr. Kennedy and Mr. West, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has hinted at a possible independent run.

Ms. Perry, president of Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights, believes advocates for medical freedom could determine who is ultimately president.

She believes that Mr. Kennedy “is pulling votes from Trump” because of the former president’s stance on COVID-19 vaccines.

“People care about medical freedom. It’s an important issue here in Mississippi, and across the country,” Ms. Perry told The Epoch Times.

“Trump should admit he was wrong about Operation Warp Speed and that COVID vaccines have been dangerous. That would make a difference among people he has offended.”

President Trump released a statement in March 2021 stating, “I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all.

“I hope everyone remembers!”

Without the vaccine, 100 million people might have died from COVID-19, President Trump said in an interview on Fox News. He added that he is “very proud” of his efforts.

The former president has on many occasions said that he is not in favor of vaccine mandates.

“I really believe in somebody’s choice, somebody’s freedom. I’m a big fan of our freedoms, and people have to make that choice for themselves,” he said.

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article.

Wes Farno, a Republican campaign strategist in Ohio, doesn’t believe a significant number of people will switch their votes from President Trump to Mr. Kennedy over the vaccines.

President Trump won in Ohio by eight percentage points in both 2016 and 2020. The Ohio Republican Party recently endorsed President Trump for the nomination in 2024.

Viola, 75, receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from a healthcare worker located in the Skid Row community in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“The positives of a Trump presidency far outweigh the negatives,” Mr. Farno said.

Only 16 percent of adults had received the newest COVID-19 vaccine boosters as of Nov. 25, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of adults released in September showed that political affiliation is a factor in COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Eight in 10 Democrats said they trust the new shots compared to one in three Republicans.

Only 24 percent of Republicans planned to get the new vaccine compared to 70 percent of Democrat respondents.

Vaccine Safety Critic

An environmental attorney, Mr. Kennedy founded Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit that aims to end childhood health epidemics by promoting vaccine safeguards, among other initiatives.

Earlier this year, Mr. Kennedy told podcaster Joe Rogan that ivermectin was suppressed by the FDA so that the COVID-19 vaccines could be granted emergency use authorization.

He has criticized Big Pharma, vaccine safety, and government mandates for years.

Since launching his presidential campaign, Mr. Kennedy has made his stances on the COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccines in general, a frequent talking point.

“I would argue that the science is very clear right now that they [vaccines] caused a lot more problems than they averted,” Mr. Kennedy said on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” in late April.

“And if you look at the countries that did not vaccinate, they had the lowest death rates, they had the lowest COVID and infection rates.”

Additional data shows a “direct correlation” between excess deaths and high vaccination rates in developed countries, he said.

Volunteers with Doctors Without Borders dump $17 million in fake money outside of Pfizer’s headquarters to protest high vaccine prices, in New York City on Nov. 12, 2015. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A vocal opponent of the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Kennedy has pledged to ban pharmaceutical advertising if elected president.

Though critics call Mr. Kennedy a “conspiracy theorist” and “anti-vaccine” for speaking out about vaccine safety, multiple studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccine is linked to a plethora of health conditions, including myocarditis and heart disease.

A study published in the journal Vaccines in September indicated that almost a third of individuals who received a COVID-19 vaccine have experienced neurological complications including tremors, insomnia, and muscle spasms. The study focused on 19,096 people who were inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines in July 2021 in Italy.

Dr. John Witcher, the founder of MS Against Mandates, was fired for treating COVID patients with ivermectin.

At Mr. Kennedy’s town hall in Mississippi, Dr. Witcher told The Epoch Times that proof the COVID vaccines have not worked as originally intended should lead President Trump to admit his mistakes.

“Though he never mandated them, he pushed the shots,” Dr. Witcher said. “He knows that a lot of his constituents are 100 percent against the vaccine, but he doesn’t want to admit that he was duped by Dr. Fauci.”

A woman displays photos of violinist Yuri Turchyn before and after his COVID-19 vaccine, at a press conference for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Philadelphia on Oct. 9, 2023. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)

For Many, Abortion Is the Decider

Ms. Perry, who also leads a movement to get conservatives elected in Mississippi, told The Epoch Times that “since most conservatives are Christian, abortion is a litmus test. You can waver on some issues, but not abortion, and that is a reason why some medical freedom advocates will still vote for Trump over Kennedy.”

Many conservatives who have attended Mr. Kennedy’s town halls and voter rallies across the country have told The Epoch Times the same thing.

Mr. Kennedy supports abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.

“I can argue there’s nobody in this country that has worked harder for the rights of medical freedom and personal bodily autonomy than me,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That applies to the vaccines and abortion.

“I don’t think the government should be telling us what to do with our bodies and dictating for Americans what we can and cannot do in the first three months of pregnancy. It’s a woman’s choice.”

He concedes the stance will cost him potential support from conservatives.

“I’ve seen photos of late-term abortions, and they’re horrifyingly troubling,” he said. “I respect people who have different points of view, and for people who say that ‘it’s the only issue that I care about,’ they will likely vote for someone else.”

In a September interview with NBC, President Trump didn’t suggest a standard number of weeks after which abortion should be banned, but has said he supports exceptions for rape.

Pro-life demonstrators march during a ‘Right To Life’ rally in Dallas, Texas, on Jan. 15, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Changing Views

Ms. Perry believes that, if President Trump admits he was wrong about Operation Warp Speed and his praise of the COVID vaccines, it would be a similar concession to Mr. Kennedy’s revised views on the border.

Mr. Kennedy had initially said he wasn’t in favor of President Trump’s border wall, but changed his mind after visiting the U.S.–Mexico border in Arizona in early June.

He said there’s a need for increased infrastructure and technology at the border, including more segments of a physical wall and sensors in areas where a wall isn’t feasible.

Mr. Kennedy called the Biden administration’s open border “a way of funding a multibillion-dollar drug and human trafficking operation for the Mexican drug cartels.”

“As president, I will secure the border, which will end the cartel’s drug trafficking economy,” he said.

Illegal immigrants wait to be processed by Border Patrol after crossing the U.S.–Mexico border in Lukeville, Ariz., on Dec. 5, 2023. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Ms. Perry said Mr. Kennedy showed “immense maturity” by changing his view about the border after “taking the time to see it first-hand and listening.”

Ohio resident Sarah Taber said she doesn’t support either candidate.

“I don’t support RFK Jr. because he is too liberal. I can’t vote for him because of his views on abortion, but I do appreciate his stance on the COVID-19 vaccine,” Ms. Taber told The Epoch Times.

She said President Trump’s stance on the vaccines “angered me greatly.”

“As a federal contractor, I was forced to take it against my will. I am the breadwinner in my family, so I couldn’t just quit,” she said. In 2020, President Trump indicated that he wouldn’t mandate the vaccines. President Biden introduced federal mandates in 2021.

“I would be more inclined to vote for Trump if he hadn’t pushed Operation Warp Speed and wasn’t proud of it.”

Setys Kelly, a staunch President Trump supporter, is running for a spot on the Ohio Republican State Central Committee.

Ms. Kelly aligns with Mr. Kennedy’s stance on vaccine safety and the devastation caused by COVID-19 shutdowns, but her loyalty remains with President Trump.

She still sees Mr. Kennedy as a Democrat.

“The country was in the best condition it had been in a long time under President Trump, and we need him back,” Ms. Kelly said.

“I do think it would be a good thing if he had some parts of Kennedy’s vision for unity while not compromising on core values. I think that would resonate with voters who are on the fence.”

Matt McGregor contributed to this report.

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