Josh Mazer got it wrong.
Standing before a roomful of people in Annapolis, all waiting to see Robert F. Kennedy Jr. launch his drive to get on the ballot as an independent candidate for president, the Maryland campaign chairman said something that was not true.
He reached up and called down the name of RFK Jr.’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, part of the Maryland branch of the famed American political family. He referred to her as the state’s former first lady.
“We hope she’s doing well,” Mazer said. “We hope she’s going to vote for Bobby.”
She won’t. The former two-term lieutenant governor of Maryland denounced her younger brother’s candidacy in October, joining other family members in calling it “perilous” for the country.
And she was never married to the governor.
I waded deep into the valley of doubt Monday, wanting not so much to hear Kennedy — son of a slain U.S. senator and candidate for president, nephew of a slain president and once a respected environmental advocate — chuck his legacy by spouting dubious opinions about vaccines and media cabals, but from the people primed to absorb them.
I was invited by Mazer, an OG anti-vaxxer from Annapolis. Josh was questioning the safety of juvenile protections against disease long before COVID and names like Pfizer and Moderna supersized disbelief in the science of medicine among the doubtful, the paranoid and the misguided.
So I squeezed among the faithful Monday at the music venu Vibe, repeating over and over: excuse me, behind you, stepping through, excuse me.
And as I wove through the 600 people filling the nightclub floor waiting for RFK Jr., I kept hearing another refrain again and again.
“I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t believe it.”
I don’t want to punch down. I obviously have grave reservations about Kennedy’s campaign, his message and the wisdom of an independent bid for president.
Yet, I understand the hope for something different.
Way back in 1980, I voted for independent candidate John Anderson in the presidential race. Ronald Reagan won, but Jimmy Carter is the better man in hindsight. I remember the bumper sticker I plastered on my manual typewriter more than the reasons for my choice.
My mother-in-law stayed with us in Annapolis so she could see Texas billionaire Ross Perot launch his independent bid for the White House in the summer of 1992. She was a quirky lady who loved her grandkids to the moon and back, but that guy was just nuts.
I admired consumer watchdog Ralph Nader, and now I blame his independent run for the squeaker in 2000. I had my doubts about Al Gore (he didn’t even carry his home state of Tennessee), but he would have made a better president than the winner by a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, George W. Bush.
There were lots of quirky folks in the room on Monday.
There was the lady from Bowie carrying a rubber horse’s head on a stick, talking to a legacy media reporter. There were credentialed members of the Foreign Press Association.
I don’t want to make the people who filled up that room in Annapolis sound deluded or willfully self-blinkered, even if they are.
I want them to have their own voice, because what they say should convince anyone that they’re misguided and now misled.
Here are some of the things they said to me, next to me and around me.
“He’s a vaccine safety advocate.”
“He’s getting past the legacy media.”
“Bud Light! Get me a Bud Light!”
“Everything is being covered up.”
“The problem is, when I try to explain, there’s all this B.S. in the background.”
“I know kids with autism who have vaccine injuries.”
“I believe he’s going to win.”
“They were reporting it was seven, eight hours travel time. I said, he’s in Baghdad! He’s in Baghdad! I almost called MSNBC.”
“I lost my job because of a vaccine mandate.”
“My son had a stroke. He had just turned 18 when he got the jab.”
“He’s got the only original message in politics in 60 years.”
“After the second shot, he went into the ICU where he was intubated for 25 days.”
“I’m a friend of Bobby’s. I was in New England and came here to be with him. I’m 100% disabled. I’m from L.A.”
“It was a fear tactic. I was in the media for years. I understand how to read between the lines.”
“They make people who buy a house on the Eastern Shore sign a waiver acknowledging it’s an agricultural area where chemicals are used. I haven’t seen it, we’re renters, but I know it exists.”
“I am the swamp. I’ve worked in Republican administrations and now Democratic. I am the swamp.”
“It’s nicotine. Some people use it for health reasons. It gives you a little cerebral bump.”
“Well, you want the long or the short answer?”
“If anything, he’ll pull Democrats from Biden. I’m a Democrat, but I was thinking about voting for Trump.”
“Bob-by! Bob-by! Bob-by!”
Then the warmup act for Kennedy took the stage, a shaven-head man wearing dark glasses.
“Annapolis, what’s going on?”
He told the crowd to raise their hands in the air, fingers extended to count freedoms being lost. With each freedom listed, 600 fingers curled inward until only raised fists remained.
“I want to introduce to you Josh Mazer, the Maryland state chairman. He’s like the RFK Jr. of Maryland!”
Bounding onto the small stage in the corner of the room, a collage of Kennedy for President and Kennedy 24 logos behind him, Mazer took the mic and started his introduction.
They need the signatures of 12,000 voters to get on the Maryland ballot in November 2024, he said — 1 million combined for all 50 states.
“How long have we waited for this?” Mazer asked.
Then it was 7 p.m. and Kennedy’s turn. It was time for me to claw through the throng to the exit and some fresh air outside.
My head hurt, and I started to wonder if I’d just caught COVID again.
I’m not really that interested in what Kennedy has to say. His speeches are just another version of digestible grievance and victimhood. I’ve seen this show before. I know how it turns out.
I understand the desire for something different.
But not this. No, not this.