15. The Incident Likely Cost Kennedy the Presidency
The Kennedy family was already a prolific political family in 1969. Ted’s older brother, John, was the much-beloved assassinated president. His other older brother, Robert, was an incredibly popular candidate for the presidency whose bid was cut short by yet another assassination. It was only natural, then, that the young senator had his eyes on the prize of the presidency in 1969, to follow in his slain brothers’ footsteps. Kennedy had name recognition in spades, more than enough money to mount a serious challenge and a legion of young female staffers, called “boiler room girls” who had worked incredibly hard on Robert’s campaign and would likely work for Ted if asked as well.
All of these positive factors were challenged after the Chappaquiddick incident. Kennedy’s questionable story surrounding the event, his delay in notifying both authorities and his constituents, and relentless media coverage all severely damaged his credibility and popularity with American voters. When he ran for the presidential nomination against Jimmy Carter in 1979, the Chappaquiddick incident was heavily featured in debates and news stories. Carter himself negatively referenced the episode and cast doubt on his opponent’s qualifications for the office. Kennedy lost the nomination. He never ran for president again.