Over the past few months, Americans have started to get to know Vivek Ramaswamy.
After announcing his candidacy on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the 37-year-old entrepreneur has put in the work, touring key early states and racking up media appearances.
Unlike many of his rivals, the Ohioan has mostly avoided criticizing former President Donald J. Trump, even billing his platform as the next step in advancing the Trump “America First” agenda.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s “America First 2.0” messaging stands out all the more starkly as the Manhattan real estate mogul faces the possibility of a Jan. 6-related indictment from special counsel Jack Smith. The anti-woke investor has condemned such a move, calling it “arguably the most dangerous of all to our constitutional republic.”
As he seeks to win over the Republican masses, Mr. Ramaswamy is communicating a somewhat different message than he did in January 2021, when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the breach of the Capitol is a stain on American history.” In that same article, he denounced Mr. Trump’s removal from Twitter as a threat not to America’s “constitutional republic” but to its “constitutional democracy.”
Still, after months of sparring between the Trump camp and followers of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, many in the broadly pro-Trump GOP base may see Mr. Ramaswamy as the rightful heir to the MAGA movement.
Recent polls certainly show a bump in his favor, as Mr. DeSantis flags. A July Harvard-Harris poll found 10 percent of GOP respondents would vote for Mr. Ramaswamy. Twelve percent would pick Mr. DeSantis.
The entrepreneur’s efforts have also made an impression on the competition.
“[Mr. Ramaswamy] has shown more movement than other stagnant candidates,” a source in a rival campaign told The Epoch Times.
“Vivek has done a ton of earned media, and it is paying off,” the source added.
“Earned media” is marketing speak for coverage Mr. Ramaswamy hasn’t bought (for example, advertisements). Like Mr. Trump and former President Barack Obama before him, Mr. Ramaswamy has shown a knack for navigating the 21st-century media environment.
Veteran GOP Strategist ‘Sort of Open’ to Ramaswamy
The conventional wisdom, at least a few weeks ago, held that Mr. Ramaswamy is doomed to be a marginal figure in the 2024 field.
Experts who spoke with The Epoch Times for a June article on the GOP field dismissed his candidacy.
“Mr. Ramaswamy is probably well-intentioned but has no legitimate shot at the Oval Office,” said James Hartman, a self-described “Never Trumper” Republican political consultant.
A few weeks later, knowledgeable observers rate Mr. Ramaswamy a little higher.
Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin who is on the Fox News Decision Desk, told The Epoch Times on July 26 that he finds Mr. Ramaswamy “kind of fascinating.”
“I’m not of the opinion that you write people off because they haven’t held office or because of whatever other factors the ‘intelligentsia’ says will keep Ramaswamy from doing well,” said Mr. Shaw, who worked on multiple Republican presidential campaigns, including the George W. Bush campaign in 2000.
“I’m sort of open to this,” he added.
Mr. Shaw argued that the former president’s 2016 campaign built a new, albeit precarious Republican coalition, surprising him and other skeptical insiders.
“The Trump people, including [Brad] Parscale and others, said, ‘We think there’s blue-collar, less well-educated whites, especially in the Upper Midwest. They’re not registered. We’re going to find them. They love Trump, and we’re going to win with them,’” he said, adding that those 2016 Trump campaign consultants were “dead on.”
“Now, the $64,000 question, not adjusted for inflation, is whether or not these voters are actually a part of the Republican coalition or Trump voters,” Mr. Shaw continued.
Downstream of the Trump revolution, there are “two interesting dynamics” in the 2024 field, according to Mr. Shaw. One is that the various Trump alternatives are locked in a war of all against all. Mr. Trump is virtually guaranteed to matter, but there can only be one second banana.
“The lane is for Trump and a non-Trump candidate. That’s an oversimplification, but sometimes a simple story is right,” he said.
“On the other hand, nobody really wants to, in trying to grab that non-Trump lane, offend what they think is an element of the Republican coalition that is pretty iffy if Trump is not at the head of the ticket,” he continued.
Mr. Ramaswamy has certainly taken a different approach than former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has gone on the offensive against the man he once endorsed.
Mr. Christie’s message may resonate with segments of the general public and with the Republican establishment that existed before 2016. But things look different in the Trump-era GOP.
“Who’s to say [Ramaswamy’s] not capable of becoming a non-Trump candidate, catching fire, and becoming a credible alternative?” Mr. Shaw asked.
America First 2.0 or Andrew Yang 2.0?
Like many others who have weighed in on Mr. Ramaswamy, Mr. Shaw compared him to another young, vaguely techno-futuristic businessman of Asian descent who made a splash in American politics.
“I think he represents this class of fast-rising entrepreneurs. [Andrew] Yang on the Left is sort of a version of this,” Mr. Shaw said.
“They’re spectacularly successful. They take the same sort of approach to politics they took to business, which is, ‘Why would I limit myself? Why would I work my way up through the minor leagues? That’s not how I ran my business. I want to have an impact. I have ideas. I want to go straight to the major leagues,’” he added.
Richard Gordon, a Democratic presidential campaign veteran on the Republican Governors Association’s National Finance Committee, made a similar comparison.
“Can you say ‘Andrew Yang?’ It appears that every cycle, there is someone who catches the public’s attention by being different, unique, and authentic and by talking straight and presenting new ideas. The 2024 version is Vivek Ramaswamy,” Mr. Gordon wrote The Epoch Times in a July 24 email.
“He will enjoy his 15 minutes of fame and then fade. Just like Yang did. Just like others in the past have,” Mr. Gordon predicted.
He argued that Mr. Ramaswamy is in the conversation because Mr. DeSantis has faltered on the campaign trail. In his view, Republicans who don’t back Mr. Trump are still scrambling for a viable alternative to the former president.
“This week, it is Vivek Ramaswamy,” he said.
Mr. Shaw thinks the dynamics of the Republican field incentivize aggressive opposition to Mr. DeSantis rather than Mr. Trump from candidates like Mr. Ramaswamy.
He argued that DeSantis supporters who break with the Florida governor could go to any candidate. Trump supporters, by contrast, would go to Mr. DeSantis second, according to Mr. Shaw—and the base has little appetite for attacks on the previous commander-in-chief.
Therefore, Mr. Ramaswamy and other second- or third-tier hopefuls are “probably sensing it’s easier to go after DeSantis and see if you can climb up into the twenties and then become recognized as the non-Trump candidate.”
‘Is it Possible to Rise?’
Like Mr. Gordon, Democratic strategist Alyssa Batchelor thinks Mr. Ramaswamy could burn bright before disappearing.
“We’ve seen other ‘fresh’ candidates have their moment in the sun in primaries on both sides of the aisle—like Pete Buttigieg in 2020 winning Iowa—only to have voter enthusiasm wane in the following weeks,” she told The Epoch Times in a July 25 message.
“The first hurdle he needs to get over is the August debate,” she said.
Mr. Ramaswamy is one of seven candidates who have met the criteria to participate in that debate, which will take place in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
The latest is another businessman turned politician, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. Mr. Burgum met the Republican National Committee’s minimum requirements for unique donors—40,000 total, with at least 200 apiece from 20 states or territories—by offering supporters $20 gift cards.
While Ms. Batchelor mentioned the Buttigieg candidacy as a possible Ramaswamy parallel, Mr. Shaw suggested many GOP consultants might think of Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and others who rose and fell in 2012.
Yet, 2012 isn’t 2024. Mr. Trump’s gravitational pull on the field makes predictions challenging.
“If you say Trump’s just got 40 percent in some of these early states, okay, is it possible to rise? What are the limits of the rise?” Mr. Shaw asked.
“Do we have more of the traditional momentum dynamics, where a lesser-known candidate gets outsized attention, and then that attention ultimately turns negative and they tend to implode? Or do we have a situation where the party is so desperate to find the next star to replace Trump that they close ranks around that candidate?” he continued.
2024 may hinge on the answers.