RFK Jr. screwing up at the Iowa State Fair.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Anyone following the bizarre presidential campaign of anti-vaxx, pumping-iron legend Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is probably aware that he has a lot more fans in the Republican Party than in his own Democratic Party, where his supporters are mostly people who know little about him other than his last name. Some of his other-party love undoubtedly stems from a shared zest for conspiracy theories revolving around COVID-19 mitigation measures. And Republicans also, of course, are cheerleaders for anyone who might make Joe Biden’s path to a second White House term more difficult.

There’s really just one problem with Kennedy from the GOP point of view: On abortion, their one nonnegotiable issue other than taxes, he is, like other Democrats, beyond the pale — or at least so it appeared until this weekend. RFK Jr. had vaguely self-identified as favoring abortion rights, and when Ron DeSantis, seriously or not, talked about making him head of the CDC or FDA, anti-abortion commissar Mike Pence pounced.

“When I am president, I will only consider pro-life Americans to lead the FDA, CDC, or HHS,” Pence said, per the Washington Examiner. “To be clear, pro-abortion Democrats like RFK Jr. would not even make the list.”

So it’s possible Kennedy decided this was a problem he ought to fix to keep his name on every Republican’s “list” for a big federal job. And in response to incredibly predictable questions during his appearance at the Iowa State Fair, he tried to execute a huge flip-flop to mollify conservative fans, as NBC News reported:

Democratic presidential hopeful and known anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Sunday that he would support a national ban on abortion after the first three months of pregnancy if elected …

“I believe a decision to abort a child should be up to the women during the first three months of life.” Pressed on whether that meant signing a federal ban at 15 or 21 weeks, he said yes …

“Once a child is viable, outside the womb, I think then the state has an interest in protecting the child.”

The candidate made quite a mess of a statement there. He sent one signal by consistently using the anti-abortion movement’s preferred term for a fetus, “a child,” even when discussing a limited right to an abortion. He seemed to endorse a fetal viability standard — the basic line drawn by Roe v. Wade, which generally means 23 or 24 weeks after conception — but then blithely assented to a 15-week ban. And in referring to “the state’s interest” in “protecting the child,” it’s unclear whether he meant “the government” or one of the 50 states, which is a rather important distinction when you are in the process of endorsing a national abortion ban.

If Kennedy’s plan was to give the forced-birth lobby a cudgel with which to attack his party, it worked instantly, provoking a statement from the chief proponent of a 15-week national abortion ban, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s stated position is a stark contrast to the Democratic Party’s radical stance of abortion on demand, with no protection for babies in the womb or their mothers, right up to the end of pregnancy.”

In one fell swoop, in fact, Kennedy placed himself to the right of Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy, all of whom have rejected the 15-week national-ban litmus test.

But even as the candidate’s statement begin bouncing around the echo chambers of American politics, Kennedy’s campaign leaped in to retract it, claiming it was as all based on a misunderstanding, as Politico reported:

[H]is campaign subsequently said Kennedy did not mean to support any federal limits on abortion.

“Today, Mr. Kennedy misunderstood a question posed to him by a NBC reporter in a crowded, noisy exhibit hall at the Iowa State Fair,” his campaign said. “Mr. Kennedy’s position on abortion is that it is always the woman’s right to choose. He does not support legislation banning abortion.”

Kennedy was repeatedly asked simple questions on his position on abortion that no level of bleating of sheep or bellowing of steers could have possibly made all that confusing. That’s aside from the fact that it’s a bad idea to answer questions on the most inflammatory issue in American politics if you somehow don’t know the difference between “national” and “state” and have no clue what “viability” means.

Suffice it to say that RFK Jr.’s spectacular double flip-flop on abortion policy in a matter of hours should make both sides on the issue profoundly mistrust him, while making everyone wonder what else he has “misunderstood” about public policy.

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RFK Jr. Executes Rare Double Flip-Flop on Abortion