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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & How White House Hopes Can Be Undone by a Dog

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & How White House Hopes Can Be Undone by a Dog

There are many, many reasons why Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will never be president. 

For starters, his claim that a parasitic worm ate part of his brain is likely a deal breaker for a large segment of the American electorate, even if it does explain some of Kennedy’s wackier conspiracy theories, like the one about anti-depressants causing school shootings, or COVID-19 being a lab-created bioweapon “designed to target Caucasians and Black people” (while sparing Jews and Chinese). His head-scratching contention that Palestinians are “the most pampered people… in the history of the world” is also bound to turn off to a lot of voters, as is his assertion that industrial chemicals are causing “gender confusion” among today’s teenagers.

But the No. 1 reason that RFK Jr. will never sit behind the Resolute Desk has nothing to do with any of the above. It’s that he supposedly once ate a dog.

He denies it, of course — he insists it was a goat. But the story is out there, anyway, in a July 2 Vanity Fair article that unearthed a 2010 photo of Kennedy and an unidentified woman chomping into the barbequed remains of what sure looks like a dog. According to the magazine, last year Kennedy texted that picture to a friend who was traveling to Korea, suggesting he try a restaurant there that served canine. Vanity Fair went so far as to consult a veterinarian, who confirmed that the carcass in the picture did indeed appear to be a dog. But even if the magazine screwed the pooch on the facts — even if the vet was wrong and it really was a goat, not a dog, that he had eaten during a trip to South America, not Korea, as Kennedy contends — it doesn’t matter. Because the damage has been done.

In American politics, there is no greater sin than malice toward Fido. This, by the way, is true of Hollywood, as well; Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino can slaughter as many Homo sapiens as they please on the screen — and often do — but they both know better than to ever kill a puppy in a movie. Audiences simply won’t tolerate it. Just as the electorate will never abide animal brutality in a candidate. Nobody wants Cruella De Vil for president. Or even vice president.

The most recent politician to learn this lesson was South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, who for a hot second last spring looked like a powerful contender as Donald Trump’s 2024 VP pick. But then Noem published her memoir, which included a jaw-dropping yarn about how she once shot and killed a rambunctious 14-month-old wirehair pointer because it was “less than worthless… as a hunting dog.” Noem included the chilling anecdote in her book to illustrate her willingness to do anything “difficult, messy and ugly” that needed to get done, which she clearly assumed would be interpreted by MAGA voters as a winning personality trait. She’d have been better off — at least politically — if she’d confessed to being the Zodiac Killer.

Mitt Romney never murdered a dog — at least that we know of — but he did admit to stuffing his Irish Setter in a carrier and strapping it to the roof of his station wagon for a 12-hour family road trip. That revelation — or “Crate Gate,” as it came to be known — quickly overwhelmed his 2012 campaign against Barack Obama, sparking “Dogs Against Romney” protests outside the Westminster dog show and inspiring New York Times columnist Gail Collins to write no fewer than 50 stories on the scandal. Who can say if that was the thing that ultimately lost Romney the election, but all that fur-flying clearly didn’t help.

As with everything in life and in politics, there are exceptions to the rule. Lyndon Johnson unleashed howls of protests from animal lovers when he picked up his Beagle by the ears in front of a pack of White House photographers, but still ended up winning the 1964 presidential election by a landslide. And while maybe not exactly cruel, a few wily candidates have shamelessly — and successfully — exploited their animals for political advantage: Richard Nixon’s 1952 “Checkers speech,” in which he neutralized a potential scandal over illicit campaign contributions by invoking his Cocker Spaniel, a gift from one of his supporters, was a masterstroke of manipulation that many historians believe saved his career. “And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog,” Dwight Eisenhower’s then-vice president told the nation in a televised address. “And I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”

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As for the current candidates for president, they have both so far avoided their own canine crisis, although they’ve each come within a whisker of one. Donald Trump is known to hate dogs (in her memoir, his ex-wife Ivana wrote about Trump’s frequent battles with her pet poodle, Chappy, who would “bark at him territorially”). But dislike and cruelty aren’t quite the same thing, and given that the Republican soon-to-be-nominee happens to also be a convicted felon and an adjudicated sex offender, an aversion to dogs is maybe not the most problematic part of his candidacy. Joe Biden does love dogs, but unfortunately the dogs he loves don’t always love him. His German Shepherd, Major, had to be evicted from the White House in 2021 after biting the presidential foot. (Also — just in case it comes up in the future — Vice President Kamala Harris is an animal lover, too; she has a step-dog named Harper, who belongs to her husband, Doug Emhoff.) 

Still, none of the above-mentioned politicians has ever bragged about eating a dog, much less been photographed looking like they were about to dig into a roasted Rover. Which means that all of them, unlike Robert Kennedy Jr., have at least a chance of being the next president of the United States.

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