All of the top Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump excepted, braved questions from journalist Tucker Carlson at a summit in Des Moines, Iowa.

While some met with a lukewarm or, at times, unfriendly reception from the very Christian audience, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy was most definitely not among them. He even got a standing ovation.

“It would seem that we’re doing really well in this race—a lot better than we expected to, frankly, than I expected to this early on,” Mr. Ramaswamy told reporters after his speech at the July 14 candidate forum, which was organized by The FAMiLY Leader and Blaze Media.

“He was amazing,” said Dennis Guth, a Republican state senator from Iowa who spoke with The Epoch Times after all the candidates said their piece.

“He really was a firebrand,” said Pastor Josh Overfors, another Iowan who shared his thoughts with The Epoch Times following the speeches.

“He wasn’t afraid to hold back on positions that were unpopular,” Mr. Overfors added.

An Anti-woke Millennial

Mr. Ramaswamy had a relatively friendly interlocutor in Mr. Carlson. The anti-woke Millennial announced his candidacy several months ago on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” before Fox News fired the popular cable television host.

The businessman has gained ground on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in recent polling. Both remain dwarfed by Mr. Trump among Republican voters.

Mr. Ramaswamy’s rise can be credited in part to his Trump-like posture, not least in terms of rhetoric.

The United States, Mr. Ramaswamy told Mr. Carlson, “is doing poorly.”

The frankness echoes Mr. Trump’s message during his first bid for president, beginning with his descent down the golden escalator at Trump Tower.

“Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them,” Mr. Trump said near the beginning of what turned out to be an epochal address.

Mr. Ramaswamy sounded a little more optimistic when Mr. Carlson asked him how his opinions have shifted while barnstorming the country as a presidential hopeful.

“We’re not as divided as they make it out to be,” he said, citing conversations he had in Chicago’s South Shore and inner-city Philadelphia.

Like Mr. Trump, who ran as an America First opponent of globalism, Mr. Ramaswamy stressed that he is “a citizen of this nation, not some nebulous global citizen.”

He worked hardest to set himself apart from many rivals when responding to questions on foreign policy—a frequent and, at times, contentious topic during Mr. Carlson’s conversations with the various candidates.

“Nearly our entire field is indistinguishable in practice from where Biden is on this, which is in an undefined, ill-defined way, pouring more money into a war that I think is destined to become Vietnam or Iraq all over again,” Mr. Ramaswamy said.

“We can end this war and start prioritizing the interests of actual U.S. citizens here at home,” he continued to applause from the crowd.

“I don’t think any Republican donors agree with you,” Mr. Carlson said.

“I think that’s accurate,” Mr. Ramaswamy replied.

He outlined a peace plan that would see Ukraine sacrifice the potential for NATO membership and part of the Donbas region in exchange for concessions from Russia—strategic decoupling from China, denuclearization of Kaliningrad, and no troops in Cuba, Venezuela, or other locations in the United States’ historic sphere of influence.

January 6 and Censorship

Mr. Ramaswamy weighed in on domestic policy too. He traced the events of January 6 to “pervasive censorship” on everything from COVID origins to the Hunter Biden laptop.

“You tell people in this country they cannot speak—that is when they scream. You tell people they cannot scream—that is when they tear things down,” he said.

The anti-ESG investor drew cheers and applause when he questioned the premise of one question from Mr. Carlson.

“Both parties, particularly the Democratic Party, claim they’re doing so [pushing censorship] in order to ‘protect democracy,’” Mr. Carlson said.

“We’re a constitutional Republic,” Mr. Ramaswamy said.

“People always applaud that! I love it,” Mr. Carlson replied with a laugh.

Mr. Ramaswamy also suggested that the Democrats’ choice of candidate would depend on whether he secures the nomination, adding to the ongoing speculation about whether California Governor Gavin Newsom or some other candidate will replace the octogenarian incumbent come Election Day 2024.

“If it’s Trump, they’re going to run Biden. If it’s me, there’s no way they let Biden run,” he said, floating Mr. Newsom and Michelle Obama as two possible challengers in such an event.

Mr. Overfors and Mr. Guth were far from alone in finding Mr. Ramaswamy impressive.

“After this day, I would be between either Vivek or DeSantis,” said Rachel Terhaar, crediting the entrepreneur with a certain “organicness.”

For Trump loyalists who feel he deserves to win in 2024, Mr. Ramaswamy looks like a good second choice or maybe even a number two in the administration.

Grant Gardner told The Epoch Times Mr. Ramaswamy was the second-best option after Mr. Trump.

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