The Controversy Surrounding The Kennedy Family Super Bowl Commercial, Explained

Some people watch the Super Bowl for the game, some people watch for the commercials, and this year, some people watched for Taylor Swift. No matter their reason for tuning in, people definitely noticed the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. presidential ad this year, and the reactions varied from confusion to eye-rolling annoyance. The ad played on the nostalgia of John F. Kennedy's presidential run as Kennedy Jr.'s face replaced that of his uncle in the original 1960 ad, which features a catchy jingle listing the reasons people should vote for Kennedy. Kennedy Jr. is running as a third-party candidate for president, a move not supported by much of his family.

It turns out that Kennedy Jr. didn't have anything to do with the ad, and it doesn't sound like he was too happy about it. After it ran, Kennedy Jr. posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: "I'm so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain. The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign. [Federal Election Committee] FEC rules prohibit Super PACs from consulting with me or my staff."

Some in the Kennedy family publicly denounced the Super Bowl ad

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has a complicated relationship with some of his family members, particularly since he started running for office, which may have prompted the apology. We were certainly able to see some of their displeasure with it. Another of John F. Kennedy's nephews, Bobby Shriver, posted on X after seeing the ad, and he alluded to some of Kennedy Jr.'s controversial anti-vaccine rhetoric as one of the problems that he had with the ad: "My cousin's Super Bowl ad used our uncle's faces- and my Mother's [Eunice Kennedy Shriver]. She would be appalled by his deadly health care views. Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA. She strongly supported my health care work at @ONECampaign & @RED which he opposes." Bobby's brother Mark agreed with him.

Other members of the Kennedy family who have come out against Kennedy Jr.'s candidacy in the past, including his siblings, haven't yet made a public response to the high-profile commercial, which likely cost the Super PAC at least $7 million. But if Bobby and Mark's responses are any indication, we're pretty sure they're not happy.

People beyond the Kennedy family seemed upset with the RFK Jr. Super Bowl spot

The public backlash from some in the Kennedy family over the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Super Bowl was echoed by a number of people online. Robert Shrum, director at the USC Center for the Political Future, tweeted: "This RFK Jr. Super Bowl ad is a straight out plagiarism of JFK ad from 1960. What a fraud- and to quote Lloyd Bentsen with a slight amendment, 'Bobby, you're no John Kennedy.' Instead you are a Trump ally." Another person wrote what a lot of people seemed to be thinking about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Super Bowl commercial: "What an embarrassment to the Kennedy name."

The controversial ad comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that alleges Kennedy Jr. is working with a PAC to get his name on the primary ballot in a number of states. With the 2010 Citizens United decision, PACs were barred from working directly with candidates' campaigns, so it was perhaps more than just the backlash against the ad that led to Kennedy Jr.'s disavowal of it.

Despite saying sorry for any hurt over the Super Bowl ad, Kennedy Jr. shared the ad on X and pinned it to the top of his profile. "Our momentum is growing," he captioned the video. "It's time for an Independent President to heal the divide in our country."