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The Other ‘Skinny Guy With a Funny Name’: Vivek Ganapathy Ramaswamy Is Having a Moment

The Other ‘Skinny Guy With a Funny Name’: Vivek Ganapathy Ramaswamy Is Having a Moment

  • As the political neophyte is expected to get a pushback from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the first GOP debate, it remains to be seen if the Indian American’s smooth talking skills will stand him in good stead.

On Wednesday, in the first presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, America will get to know another — as Barack Obama once described himself — the ‘skinny guy with a funny name’ who wants to be president. This time, he’ll be from the other side of the aisle, the Grand Old Party. The question is, will Vivek Ramaswamy’s political trajectory follow that of Obama whose oratorical prowess and charisma catapulted him to the Oval Office, or will he end up like Pete Buttigieg, who, notwithstanding his smooth talking and nerdy persona, whimpered out in the first primary in the ‘old’ south.

There’s no doubt that all eyes are on Ramaswamy, who is about to face his biggest test. The Indian American biotech entrepreneur will be literally at the center stage with eight other candidates including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when they come together for the first debate.

Ramaswamy’s smooth-talking skills are well known. So are his rapping abilities, thanks to an impromptu performance at the Iowa state fair earlier this month. Political pundits expect him do well if not dominate the debate. As The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson puts it: “This is how a debate with Ramaswamy unfolds. He’ll engage with your question, but, when needed, he’ll expand its parameters. If that fails, he’ll pivot to thoughts on the existence of a higher power.”

Former president Trump’s absence and DeSantis’ multifaceted failures on the campaign trail will put the spotlight on Ramaswamy. “With DeSantis in decline and Trump skipping the debate altogether, the other GOP candidates are homing in on Ramaswamy, likely parsing all these biographical details for debate attack fodder,” notes Nitish Pahwa, Slate’s associate business and tech writer. He will most definitely get the most pushback from DeSantis. The memo posted online by a pro-DeSantis political action committee suggested that he should “take a sledgehammer” to Ramaswamy and call him “Fake Vivek” or “Vivek the Fake,” The Hill reported. 

Ramaswamy, who often professes fealty to libertarian ideas, is the youngest among the GOP presidential candidates. Poll numbers and the reception he’s received during his recent trips in Iowa and New Hampshire indicate that his profile has been steadily growing. Contrary to opinions when he had launched his campaign, he has “emerged as something of a surprise breakout candidate,” as Politico puts it.

A latest Emerson College poll showed DeSantis and Ramaswamy tied at 10% each, trailing former President Donald Trump, who leads with 56%. DeSantis kept his position in second place from previous polls, but he registered a big drop from the 21 percent he had in June. Ramaswamy rose from just 2% then.

While he is polling well in the national polls, his numbers in Iowa don’t seem promising. A poll of the state’s likely Republican caucusgoers shows Ramaswamy at 4%, the Des Moines Register reported. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s tied with former Vice President Mike Pence at 6%. If Ramaswamy fares poorly in Iowa, he is bound to flame out in South Carolina, which could effectively end his campaign.

While he’s been trying to set himself apart from both Trump and DeSantis, an opinion article in MSNBC by Zeeshan Aleem compares him to both those candidates. In many ways, “Ramaswamy has positioned himself in close alignment with or to the right of Trump on most policies,” Aleem writes. The Indian American conservative has also suggested that “he’ll succeed where Trump failed with an America First 2.0’ policy agenda,” he adds. Aleem also places Ramaswamy in “a similar camp with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has embraced a war on so-called wokeness in a bid to appeal to the core MAGA crowd.”

According to an article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker, there is a difference between both the candidates’ stance on anti-wokeness. “Ramaswamy’s description as ‘anti-woke’ and as a non-white candidate peddling racist dog whistles, does not captures what is unique about his candidacy,” Wallace-Wells writes. “Unlike DeSantis, for whom “anti-woke” is a banner under which to advance aggressive social-conservative policy items, Ramaswamy uses it as a way to attack the connective tissue of power — a liberal consensus of anti-racism, “climatism, covid-ism, globalism.”

There’s also a disadvantage in Ramaswamy’s rhetorical and sometimes unfiltered style. Many a time he is capable of biting off more than he can chew — apropos his latest comment on 9/11 attacks suggesting a conspiracy behind it. A story in The Atlantic quoted him saying, “how many police, how many federal agents were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers.” When CNN asked about his comments that were widely panned, he tried hard to walk back but not quite. “I am not questioning what we — this is not something I’m staking anything out on. But I want the truth about 9/11.” 

A spokesperson for Ramaswamy’s campaign told The Hill today that his discussion with The Atlantic reporter was a “free-flowing conversation,” and that the candidate was instead referring to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot. Meanwhile, The Atlantic released audio of the interview, “to support how it covered his comments.” The Hill also notes that while “Ramaswamy was already expected to face pushback from other candidates on stage Wednesday night over other past comments about Israel and other topics, but the latest controversy opens him up to fresh attacks from rivals, especially as he sees his standing rise in polls.”

Ramaswamy emerged on the national stage after publishing his book “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” which criticizes political correctness and identity politics in the corporate world. Describing himself as“anti-woke,” he made a name for himself in right-wing circles by opposing corporate efforts to advance political, social and environmental causes. It also made him a frequent face on Fox News.

Tracking his rising popularity, Pahwa notes that “whether they’re a result of circumstantial luck or actual political savvy, Ramaswamy’s heightened profile and appeal are now undeniable, and political observers are catching on.” 

Last month, FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, politics, economics, and sports blogging in the United States, examined how he managed to capture so much public attention while the others still languish in obscurity. It citied three reasons — his wealth, his ability to get media attention, and his religion — he could be the first nonwhite Republican presidential nominee and the first Hindu president. 

Wallace-Wells meanwhile notes that while Ramaswamy is a political novice, which itself is “a draw for the post-Trump G.O.P., which is at war with many aspects of its own recent past.” While it is “both strange and very of the moment that he could turn this background into a viable Presidential candidacy, and he has been going about it with vigor.” 

Ramaswamy addresses campaign rallies under a banner listing ten principles of his campaign including “God is real”; “There are two genders”; “Human flourishing requires fossil fuels”; and “reverse racism is racism,” among others. “When I penned these 10 Truths in a notebook months ago on a flight from New Hampshire to Ohio, I drew inspiration from Thomas Jefferson’s original words in the Declaration of Independence,” he wrote in the New York Post.  

There is no question that Ramaswamy has come along far in his long-shot race. There’s also no doubt that his rhetorical style will serve him well in tomorrow’s debate. But, as Pahwa notes, if his campaign has to “really take off, he won’t just have to fend off attack-ready, amply experienced politicians; he’ll also have to exercise caution over what he himself says.”

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