Vivek Ramaswamy is struggling to resonate with Republican voters

“I am launching not only a political campaign but a cultural movement to create a new American Dream.”
Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek Ramaswamy
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“I am launching not only a political campaign but a cultural movement to create a new American Dream.” This was Vivek Ramaswamy’s rallying cry as he launched his bid for the Republican party’s presidential nomination.

Ahead of the first US Republican primary  in Iowa on January 15, Ramaswamy continues to pitch himself as a young radical who will abolish the FBI, the Department of Education, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Food and Nutrition Service.

During a speech at the right-wing think-tank the America First Policy Institute in Washington DC, he also announced proposals to reduce the federal workforce by up to 75%.

The 38-year-old political novice is one of the America’s wealthiest millennials and made his fortune as a biotech entrepreneur. The Harvard-educated son of Indian immigrants with a successful business pedigree presents himself as an anti-establishment outsider. Associated Press reporter Bill Barrow says that Ramaswamy wants to be the candidate that “can return Trump’s ‘America First’ vision to the White House without the baggage”.

William A. Galston and Elaine Kamarck, senior fellows at the Brookings Institution think-tank, have described Ramaswamy “as the candidate of the New Right” and a “rising force within the conservative movement”. Ramaswamy revels in this type of depiction. Yet, as editor-in-chief of the National Review, Rich Lowry, states, the self-made millionaire is pursuing membership of a “pack not of his own creation” and is merely taking his “cues from the leading edge of Maga opinion on social media”.

Trump’s biggest fan

Ramaswamy is a huge admirer of Donald Trump, calling him the “best president of the 21st century”. But in a clear attempt to differentiate himself from the former president, he has sought to put forward policies that are more extreme than Trump’s agenda.

While former president Trump’s centrepiece pledge from his successful 2016 White House bid was to construct an impenetrable wall along the US-Mexico border, his would-be protégé has advanced a proposal to tackle the growing fentanyl crisis in America by building a 5,500-mile-long border wall between the US and Canada.

His overseas platform is very much in the Trump guise. In an interview with Fox News in September 2023, Ramaswamy declared that he and Trump are the only “non-neocon” candidates running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

No more support for Ukraine

During a string of campaign stops in early voting states Ramaswamy has been keen to explain the twin-pillars of his foreign policy plan: “Stay out of World War III (and) declare economic independence from communist China.” During a recent Republican television debate he made clear his opposition to continuing US financial aid to Ukraine.

Ramaswamy has taken aim at the neoconservative establishment within the Republican party who, ever since the administration of George W. Bush, has advanced a vision that urges the US government to act on its own (rather than through international coalitions) with a pre-emptive military doctrine.

Writing on the American Conservative website he proclaimed a desire to follow the foreign policy path of Richard Nixon’s “cold and sober realism”. Ramaswamy provided an illustration of how this would manifest itself under his presidency. Citing the war in Ukraine and how his administration would negotiate a deal to end the conflict he wrote: “A good deal requires all parties to get something out of it. To that end, I will accept Russian control of the occupied territories and … block Ukraine’s candidacy to NATO in exchange for Russia exiting its military alliance with China.”

Republican supporters?

Stephen M. Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University, offered a harsh critique of this approach, saying that true realists “warn against efforts to remake distant societies that are very different from our own” and derided Ramaswamy for believing that “it will be child’s play to get other countries to reorient their foreign policies and restructure their societies according to his dictates”.

His nationalistic populist foreign policy agenda and deeply conservative positions are now the hallmarks of the modern Republican party. Yet polling ahead of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses on January 15 2024 is not positive for Ramaswamy.

He is struggling to resonate with Republican voters and has been languishing in the polls, far behind Trump and other challengers. Ramaswamy’s recent outbursts voicing a series of fantastical conspiracy theories are not having the desired impact his campaign team had hoped for. During one Republican debate he suggested the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol building by Trump supporters was actually an “inside job”.

Following in Trump’s shadow

Some observers have stressed Ramaswamy’s difficulties rest with his inability to consistently embody the outsider image that he wants to project. CNN’s political reporter Daniel Strauss points out that Ramaswamy has a “tendency to engage in discussions that veer further into the academic and away from the red-meat appeals that conservative base supporters love”.

Perhaps the biggest problem that faces Ramaswamy as he heads for Iowa, and why his campaign has not resonated more with Republican voters, is that his provocative hard-right agenda is a space already occupied by the leading Republican contender for the 2024 nomination. So it looks like he is heading out of the race, with egg on his face.

As David Kochel, a renown GOP strategist, said: “If you like Vivek Ramaswamy and what he is saying in this campaign, you already have a candidate, and his name is Donald Trump.”

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