Opinion | What I Got Wrong About Vivek Ramaswamy


There’s going down honorably in a presidential nomination battle, and then there’s what Vivek Ramaswamy is doing.

Mike Pence and Tim Scott may have left the race early, but they both know who they are and both bowed out for the greater good when they concluded they had no path.

Neither is true, or likely to be true, of Ramaswamy. He has succeeded on his own terms in this race, but that doesn’t make the enterprise any less tawdry and unworthy.

He has become famous, or at least B-List-presidential-candidate-famous. This is good for the future of the podcast he launched during this campaign and other potential media gigs and ventures, as well as perhaps a run at some other office. The price has been cheapening himself and making a mockery of the process.

As the campaign begins to hit crunch time, the next primary debate could be Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley — a governor and former governor who hope to become Donald Trump’s main challenger with clashing political strategies — and a troll who is running for clicks and audience share.

Ramaswamy isn’t campaigning to be president so much as running as to be Charlie Kirk, the Turning Points USA star who has built an empire on MAGAish provocations.

Ramaswamy’s boosters can say he’s gotten further than a former vice president and sitting U.S. senator, which is true enough. Both of them, though, might have lasted longer if they had constantly sought to curry favor with MAGA influencers without regard to the merits or to considerations of self-respect.

Ramaswamy has sounded as pro-Trump as Trump’s own children, inveighed against an establishment that barely exists, played footsie with conspiracy theories, and courted controversies — both righteous and stupid — to gain the attention of the base of the party.

It’s dispiriting that such a shrewd and self-interested guy thinks this is how you rise within the Republican Party.

One would hope that running for president would elevate someone, at least a little, but Ramaswamy surely was more responsible and thoughtful when he was wooing investors as a businessman rather than working the angles as a presidential candidate.

He exudes such an aura of insincerity, you have the distinct feeling that if neo-conservatism were still in fashion he’d eagerly out-Cheney Liz Cheney. I’m the only one on this stage with the guts and integrity to bomb Iran on Day One.

There’s an honorable tradition of no-hope candidates who run to promote a cause — Eugene McCarthy and opposition to the Vietnam war; Pat Buchanan and populist-nationalism; Ron Paul and 180-proof anti-war libertarianism; Bernie Sanders and socialism.

Sometimes these campaigns can have a real impact. McCarthy, of course, dethroned a sitting president in 1968, and Sanders became an unlikely, but serious contender for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and 2020.

What makes these kind of campaigns admirable is the intellectual consistency and passion of the candidates, even if you disagree with what they say and even if their monomania inevitability becomes tiresome.

Since Ramaswamy himself is the abiding cause of his campaign, no sense of idealism adheres to his campaign. He owes more to the great TV pitchmen like Billy Mays and Ron Popeil than to, say, Eugene Debs, the perpetual socialist candidate for president.

He’s a follower, not a leader, because he desperately wants to be part of a pack not of his own creation. He duly takes his cues from the leading edge of MAGA opinion on social media.

His attack on RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel at the third presidential debate was typical. He picked up on what a few influential MAGA voices were saying on X (formerly known as Twitter) in the aftermath of election night, and repeated it from the stage.

Now, it’s natural that the head of the RNC would take heat after a disappointing election. Clearly, though, the biggest contributor to the GOP losing streak since 2018 has been Trump. He’s been the leader of the party and done more to define its contemporary brand than any person alive, including the almost completely unknown RNC chief.

To go after her and not Trump is simply cowardly. Even if McDaniel deserves an outsized share of the blame, she got her job as a creature of Trump and has been extremely deferential to his interests.

But a plank of Ramaswamy’s campaign is to avoid criticizing Trump at almost all costs. When it was up in the air if Trump would show up for the debates or not, Ramaswamy said it’d be terribly disappointing if he didn’t participate. Then, when Trump announced he wouldn’t be coming, Ramaswamy pronounced himself completely fine with it.

I thought a few months ago that there’d be a Vivek moment, although it never really materialized. He’s gotten a lot of media attention, yes, but has remained in single digits in the polls. This is, in part, because he came off as a smarmy jerk in the first debate. He completely reversed course in the second debate to show a little modesty, and then he doubled down on obnoxiousness in the third debate.

Another issue is that trying to be Trump doesn’t work for anyone not named Donald J. Trump.

Ramaswamy is Trump as high-school debate champion; Trump without the star power and sense of authority; Trump if Trump were trying to imitate some other trailblazing political figure to capture a little of his magic.

Ramaswamy is a clever person and a talented marketer. He, no doubt, has a future in conservative media somewhere. But his has been a fundamentally cynical campaign. The only consolation is that very few have been falling for it.

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