How is it that the current flavor of the month in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is the most unlikely and least-known candidate in the field? Precisely because he’s the most unlikely and least-known candidate.
Vivek Ramaswamy got major buzz in Atlanta over the weekend at the Gathering, a conference co-sponsored by conservative radio host Erick Erickson and Gov. Brian Kemp’s PAC, Hardworking Americans. In a CBS News poll released Sunday, he has vaulted to third place behind Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, with 7 percent of Republicans polled.
The 38-year-old investor and biotech executive is well-spoken and youthful, and he has cred among movement conservatives as an early apostle of anti-wokeness. But the reason he now leads a former vice president, a United States senator and four current and former Republican governors is simply that Trump has increased his lead to 62 percent in this poll, making it impossible for the “known” candidates to gain any ground. That has opened a 7-percent hole for somebody most Republicans hadn’t heard of three months ago.
Whether he can accomplish much more in this race depends a lot on how Trump weathers the remainder of this year. We aren’t speaking only of the former president’s legal fate. In public appearances in recent weeks, the physical impact of his problems has been more noticeable. Repeated indictments have been great for his poll numbers, but they have come at a personal price. We can look at the polls and conclude that Trump already has the 2024 nomination locked up, but we can’t know that yet.
In many ways Ramaswamy, who has sold himself as an outsider who would get rid of 75 percent of the federal bureaucracy as soon as he gets to Washington, is the candidate who most resembles Trump, without a lot of the baggage.
“I think clearly the guy that is different that espouses a lot of what Trump did would be Vivek Ramaswamy, because you’re going to have to have somebody that has a business background, is entrepreneurial. That’s the only chance we turn the biggest business around in the world and get it to where we’re not borrowing from our kids and grandkids,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said in a CNBC interview Monday.
This might raise speculation that Ramaswamy is a potential vice-presidential running mate for Trump. But the similarities to Trump may constitute the best reason why Trump would be unlikely to choose him.
Whether Ramaswamy has any serious political prospects next year or not, he’s worth watching as an indicator of where the conservative movement is headed, either during or after Trump.
In his Atlanta appearance, Ramaswamy framed the central divide in American politics as that between the citizenry and what he described as the “horizontal managerial class,” for which he exuded open contempt.
“The same people who are the undersecretary of God knows what in the back office of some three-letter government agency in Washington D.C. are functionally similar to the associate dean of God knows what at some second-rate university,” Ramaswamy said.
Like a number of fire-breathing conservative populists of our day, Ramaswamy is a graduate of both Harvard and Yale. He made his first big stake trading drug stocks while still attending Yale Law School and later founded the drug-development company Roivant, which looks for under-appreciated drug projects ignored by larger firms. He later founded Strive Asset Management, an “anti-woke” index fund opposed to the rise of the ESG (environmental, social and governance) movement in U.S. companies.
He told the conservative faithful in Atlanta that he embraces the “radical, extremist ideals” of the Founding Fathers and wants to inspire voters with them.
“Individualism, family, nation and God,” he said. “That beats race, gender, sexuality and climate,” which he said is the agenda Democrats are pushing.
Ramaswamy, a child of Indian immigrants, has described himself as a “person of faith,” like the evangelical Christians who comprise an important part of the Republican base. Ramaswamy and his wife were both brought up as Hindu and are raising their two children in that faith. It’s going to be interesting to see how that squares ultimately with a Republican base that has suddenly become fascinated with him.