So, what is up with Vivek Ramaswamy? Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old near-billionaire and political novice just about stole the show at the recent Republican debate in Iowa. He did it with an over-the-top dose of Trumpian braggadocio combined with an equally over-the-top list of often outrageous policy positions mirroring the further reaches of the MAGA agenda. At some point he insulted every other GOP Presidential candidate with one notable exception: the no-show candidate, Donald Trump. He denounces his rivals as “bought and paid for” and derides them as “super PAC puppets” who made “a pilgrimage …to Kyiv, to their Pope, Zelensky, without doing the same thing for people in Maui or the South Side of Chicago.” His rivals slapped him down calling him an “amateur”, a “rookie” or worse, but Ramaswamy remains unfazed and unaffected.
Virtually the entire commentating class from right to left ridiculed him and pronounced his candidacy futile. In truth, his performance in Iowa did push him up in the polls, but nowhere near enough to challenge Trump’s overwhelming lead. It is also highly unlikely that the evangelical Christian faction that is at the core of Trump’s supporters would support a Hindu for President. So one wonders why is Ramaswamy wasting his time and money (his campaign is mostly self-financed) in a doomed campaign?
Ramaswamy is neither stupid nor a fool. The son of well-educated high caste Indians, young Vivek attended first Harvard and then Yale Law School, the Oxford and Cambridge of the American privileged class. To his credit, Ramaswamy was not a legacy student nor particularly wealthy at that point – the other principal qualification for acceptance into Ivy League schools. In fact, Ramaswamy got through Yale on a Soros Foundation fellowship. After graduating, he played the same game as others with the same uber-elite educational pedigree and parlayed his Ivy League network to prosper on Wall Street. Ramaswamy’s dynamism and brains propelled him to amass an enormous fortune which he has used to launch into politics. But, if he cannot win, and has become the butt of jokes from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News at one end of the mainstream media spectrum to the Washington Post and CNN at the other, why is he being so irrational?
A good friend whose curriculum vitae reads quite like Ramaswamy’s (i.e., high caste Hindu with highly educated parents, elite education, subsequent career in the financial world) but with different politics, suggested that Ramaswamy is crazy as a fox. Ramaswamy has realized that a substantial portion of the American electorate, that portion that forms the core of Trump’s dedicated partisans, believes that the U.S. is in horrible condition. They believe that the elites have stolen or exported their jobs, perverted American culture in favor of non-white immigrants and gender perverts while undermining Christianity. Ramaswamy has cultivated a friendship with J.D. Vance, the newly elected populist MAGA Senator from Ohio who espouses a world view that blames immigrants for the fentanyl crisis. Vance also blames abortions, gay marriage, and the ‘childless left’, for the ills of American society. Sensing that Trump had struck a chord in a large part of American society by talking about those problems, Vance shifted from a self-declared ‘never Trumper’ in 2016 to an avid supporter by 2018. His apparent gamble that this would help him win a Senate seat in Ohio in 2020 paid off handsomely. Vance’s philosophical writings have clearly informed Ramaswamy’s radical campaign rhetoric.
Ramaswamy appears to have gone Vance one better. He has wrapped himself in Trump’s persona. He has embraced Trumpian style, with his over-the-top braggadocio and personal attacks on his opponents. His policy positions align with those of the former President such as cutting off aid to Ukraine, downplaying climate change, ending birthright citizenship, and demonizing immigrants, and he advocates sending the U.S. Army into Mexico. Ramaswamy even advances new positions that should appeal to the disaffected that even Trump might have hesitated to adopt. He proposes abolishing government agencies such as the Education Department, the FBI, and the IRS. (In a bit of overreach even for the MAGA core, Ramaswamy proposed to raise the legal voting age to 25 – unless young people could pass the citizenship test for immigrants. I am not certain that this one will work; but maybe Ramaswamy knows something I don’t).
He defended Trump vigorously and accused Chris Christie of “blindly bashing Trump without an iota of vision for this country.” Ramaswamy heaped praise on Trump, declaring he would pardon the ex-President on his first day in office. His rivals inexplicably passed up the opportunity to ask him why, if, to quote Ramaswamy, “Trump was the best President of the 21st century,” was he running against him?
My friend argued persuasively that Ramaswamy wants to convince Trump that he is a Trumpian reincarnation enough to become Trump’s Vice Presidential running mate. If for some reason Trump ’s legal problems disqualify him for the Presidency, or if the Supreme Court rules that the newly re-elected President Trump cannot pardon himself (the generally accepted legal position across a broad spectrum of constitutional experts), who else would Trump make VP but the man who not only imitates him – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery – but the one candidate who has forthrightly promised to pardon Trump in his first day in office?