Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in a NewsNation town hall Wednesday night with Democratic and independent voters from the first primary states, said he didn’t want to alienate potential 2024 voters by attacking anyone personally.
That included former President Donald Trump, who Kennedy previously described as a “demagogue” during a May interview with USA TODAY.
Trump earlier this week on “The Howie Carr Show” said Kennedy has been “very nice” to him and has had a “nice relationship” with him through the years.
“He’s a very smart guy and a good guy,” Trump said of Kennedy during the radio show.
When town hall moderator Elizabeth Vargas asked Kennedy during the Wednesday evening town hall what he thinks of Trump, the Democratic candidate punted.
“I’m not going to attack other people personally,” Kennedy said.
“I’m proud that President Trump likes me,” he added.
Later in the town hall, Kennedy said he “likes” President Joe Biden, though he’s running against him and has no reservations about saying when he disagrees with him on policy decisions.
“We’ve got to stop hating on each other,” he said.
During an interview with USA TODAY in May, Kennedy described Trump as a demagogue, which is defined as a political leader who manipulates voters by playing on their prejudices and exploiting them.
“We have this middle class in our country that has sustained democracy which now feels abandoned and is migrating to demagogues like Donald Trump,” he said last month.
In a statement to USA TODAY Wednesday, Kennedy said:
“‘Demagogue’ is only one lens through which to understand a man like Donald Trump. He does arouse people’s baser instincts. However, I don’t want to reduce him to that epithet. Dehumanization of one’s opponents is one reason why this country is so divided; it is also a precursor to war and violence.
“In a similar vein, I do not want to imply that people ONLY supported Donald Trump out of base instincts. He also tapped into legitimate feelings of alienation and dispossession and the understanding that America was on the wrong path.”
Kennedy, who has faced scrutiny for his anti-vaccine views that conflict with the nation’s public health advice, has recently attracted praise and support from a mix of Trump allies and supporters, independents and celebrities.
Although Kennedy doesn’t trust U.S. agencies tasked with protecting health, such as the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said during the town hall one of his motivations to win the White House is to restore trust in the country’s institutions.