April 1, 2024 - 1:00pm

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Nicole Shanahan, a 38-year-old attorney and philanthropist, as his running mate last week. Outside of Silicon Valley, Shanahan is a relative political unknown, though as the ex-wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, she brings considerable financial assets to the ticket.

Reaction to the pick has been mixed, however — especially among a constituency RFK Jr has courted: libertarians. In a recent interview, Libertarian Party Chair Angela McArdle expressed concern about the ticket, saying that Shanahan “doesn’t necessarily fit into alignment with any of our views.” RFK Jr.’s new veep was a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and has donated to Democratic and Left-leaning causes in the past. In 2020, she donated to Marianne Williamson, Peter Buttigieg and Joe Biden.

RFK Jr. is himself a former Democrat, of course — and a progressive one, at that. He has a long history of energy and climate activism completely contrary to the limited government ethos of libertarianism. He previously called the National Rifle Association a “terrorist group”, although he does support the second amendment. He said the Koch brothers should be prosecuted for treason on environmentalist grounds. He also supports student loan debt forgiveness and affirmative action, both liberal stances.

Nevertheless, after RFK Jr. formally left the Democratic Party in October 2023 — opting to face-off against President Joe Biden in the general election rather than the primaries — widespread speculation ensued that he might seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination. Last summer, he attended FreedomFest, an annual gathering of libertarians, and emphasised his involvement in issues that matter to us: most notably, the federal government’s efforts to suppress dissenting speech on social media, particularly relating to Covid-19.

Indeed, RFK Jr.’s contrarian views on Covid-19 policies like mandates, lockdowns, and the vaccines themselves have made him a target of social media censors, who were often pressured by government agents to take down provocative speech. (The Supreme Court is currently weighing whether these actions violated the First Amendment in Murthy v. Missouri.) Many of the underlying views are themselves attractive to libertarians; one need not agree with everything RFK Jr. has said about vaccines to nevertheless admire his opposition to making them compulsory.

It was RFK Jr.’s opposition to mandates and lockdowns that first drew the attention of some libertarians. When I spoke with her in June 2023, McArdle was optimistic that his views on the pandemic had “stirred an awakening within him, causing him to reconsider many of his other political stances.”

Following the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel, RFK Jr. expressed unqualified support for the US continuing to send aid to Israel, a stance that alienated many libertarians, who do not believe American taxpayers should be required to fund foreign wars. Support for RFK Jr. among rank-and-file LP members now appears lukewarm at best; at a California Libertarian Party convention in February, Kennedy garnered just one vote in the straw poll.

When asked about running for the LP nomination, RFK Jr. has remained evasive and declined to rule it out. As such, the speculation continues. But it seems unlikely he will go for it, and if he did, he would face deep-rooted scepticism, if not outright hostility, from many within the party. In 2016, libertarians booed former Gov. Gary Johnson — who sought and obtained the party’s presidential nomination — for supporting drivers licences. RFK Jr.’s heresies loom somewhat larger.

Robby Soave is a senior editor at Reason magazine and host of The Hill’s Rising.