Why everybody hates Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek Ramaswamy has rapidly become a favorite punching bag for Republicans.
In Iowa on Wednesday, when asked about the youthful entrepreneur, former Vice President Mike Pence said: “He’s wrong on foreign policy, he’s wrong on American leadership in the world, He’s wrong on how we get this economy moving.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Ramaswamy “pretty pathetic” for attacking her Indian maiden name.
In last week’s debate, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed Ramaswamy as a “guy who sounds like Chat GPT.”
And Karl Rove put the cherry on top, writing a column Thursday in the Wall Street Journal in which he blasted Ramaswamy as a “performance artist who says outrageous things, smears his opponents and appeals to the dark parts of the American psyche.”
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Ramaswamy, for his part, dismisses the attacks as evidence that he is starting to matter in the presidential race.
And, he’s not wrong! No one attacks someone who is irrelevant. (Except, occasionally, Donald Trump.) Ramaswamy is now, by most accounts, in the top 3 nationally. Ramaswamy is the light blue line in the chart — via Real Clear Politics — below.
But, I think there’s more there too. It’s not just that Ramaswamy is starting to move up in polls — and/or dominated the Republican debate last week — that explains why he has suddenly become the focal point of attacks from across the Republican party.
So, why is it?
At least part of it has to do with Ramaswamy’s personality. He is glib. He is confident-bordering-on-arrogant. He always comes across like he believes he is the smartest guy in the room.
In a room of alpha personalities — that’s who runs for president after all — Ramaswamy is the alpha-ist, an unapologetic know-it-all who is willing to offer his opinion on everything whether you like it or not.
We’ve seen this before. During the 2020 primary, former South Bend Mayor Petet Buttigieg regularly came under attack as the race wore on — due, at least in part, to his relative youth (he, like Ramswamy was in his late 30s) and inexperience.
“Could we be running with less experience than we had? I don’t think so,” Klobuchar said of Buttigieg during that race. “I don’t think people would take us seriously.” (Klobuchar was talking specifically about the women in the race.)
Whereas Buttigieg sought to downplay conflicts that arose between himself and his competitors for the Democratic nomination, however, Ramaswamy plays them up.
“I’m the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for,” he said at one point in the debate.
Responding to an attack by Haley, Ramaswamy said “I wish you well on your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon.”
During a back and forth with Christie, Ramaswamy yelled “Give me a hug! Give me a hug just like you did Obama” — a reference to Christie’s greeting of the former president in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
But, Ramaswamy’s personality alone doesn’t totally explain the level of vitriol for him in the race. To truly understand that, I think you have to grasp that Ramaswamy is the stalking horse for Donald Trump in the eyes of his competitors.
Most of the candidates in this race have been reluctant to attack Trump — because, usually, doing so backfires on them, since the party’s base remains fiercely loyal to the former president.
So, since they can’t attack Trump, they attack the next best thing: Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy, for his part, has invited the comparisons to Trump — and defended the former president vociferously during the debate last week.
This sort of attack by association is particularly pronounced in Pence, who a) served for four years by Trump’s side and b) seems to hate Ramaswamy more than all of the other candidates combined.
During the debate, Pence repeatedly went after Ramaswamy as inexperienced and for his dark vision of the current state of America.
“We’re not looking for a new national identity,” said Pence at one point. “The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hard-working people the world has ever known.”
To which Ramaswamy responded: “It is not morning in America. We live in a dark moment. And we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold, cultural civil war.”
Which sounded a lot like Trump’s inauguration speech — when he painted a vision of American as failing and crime-riddled, promising “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
Pence, who spent four years by Trump’s side, can’t reject the former president’s vision of the country but he can attack (and attack) the guy not named Trump who is spouting many of the same views.
So, Ramaswamy, I think, gets a whole lot of the anger and frustration that his fellow candidates feel — but can’t express — about Trump. It’s not political suicide to attack Ramaswamy (as it is to attack Trump) and so everyone is going off on him — all at the same time.
What does this mean for the broader race? I still don’t see Ramaswamy as a real threat to be the nominee. For all his happy talk about Trump — and vice versa! — you can be sure that if the former president actually thought Ramaswamy was a threat to him, he would immediately begin to attack him. Plus, running as a Trump clone when Trump is in the race seems, um, shortsighted.
For the moment, though, Ramaswamy is the center of attention in the race. That it’s because all of the other candidates — aside from Trump — seem to hate him doesn’t appear to bother Ramaswamy in the least.