A CBS News/YouGov poll released last week on the national Republican primary race had a surprise result: Vivek Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old former CEO of a biopharmaceutical company who was a political nobody before three months ago, received 5 percent support.
The poll suggests that Ramaswamy is tied with former Vice President Mike Pence and beating out former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, two candidates who, unlike Ramaswamy, have served long tenures in elected office.
Ramaswamy attained that level of support through sheer force of persuasion on the campaign trail, as the political newcomer was not even mentioned in discussions of potential Republican nominees, and his experience is limited to the business world. His success suggests that connecting with voters and demonstrating political talent can still garner support in American politics, even at a time when it seems most candidates are manufactured establishment figures or have substantial backing from political machines.
Since announcing his candidacy on Feb. 21, Ramaswamy has done everything he can to get in front of as many people as possible: He’s appeared on CNN, Fox News, CBS, NBC News, Newsmax, and OANN; he’s penned op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Post; he’s campaigned in South Carolina, Michigan, Iowa; and he took a 10-county campaign tour through New Hampshire.
Ramaswamy has become a regular on Fox News — this weekend, for instance, he appeared on Fox & Friends Weekend in the middle of one of his campaign rallies in Michigan. His regular appearances on the network, as well as his campaign announcement on Tucker Carlson Tonight, have caused some to claim that Fox News is propping up his campaign. But what seems closer to the truth is that Ramaswamy, who knows his name recognition is low and that he is good on TV, is more willing than other candidates to make constant cable news appearances. In addition, his brand of America First politics connects with Fox viewers, resulting in highly viewed segments.
That 5 percent polling result drew wide attention, including from fellow candidate Donald Trump, who commented that he was “pleased” to see Ramaswamy “doing so well.” That poll result was also followed on Friday with a profile of Ramaswamy in the New York Times that described him as a “Republican wunderkind.”
Ramaswamy believes that his campaign has momentum. In that Fox & Friends Weekend segment, he was brimming with energy and enthusiasm, practically glowing while speaking of his interactions with voters and the crowds at his rallies: “I’m doing this for the next generation, and I’m in this race because I think we can take Trump’s agenda even further than Donald Trump ever did,” he said.
That’s Ramaswamy’s most frequent line on the campaign trail: that he would take Trump’s agenda further than Trump ever did or ever could. What Ramaswamy means is that his vision, unlike Trump’s 2016 vision of making a better country for the forgotten everyman, is about infusing a set of conservative values into the national consciousness. And, moreover, Ramaswamy would achieve this through the power of the executive branch. For example, Ramaswamy says that, as president, he himself would end affirmative action, thus restoring the importance of merit and achieving excellence. In addition, he says that he would use the military to “annihilate” Mexican cartels in order to solve the drug crisis that is hurting so many American families.
It’s through this vision that Ramaswamy exercises his ambitiousness: He doesn’t just want to improve America through policy; he also wants to change the minds of Americans so that they create a country focused more on merit, family, sacrifice, and equality rather than on victimhood, individualism, selfishness, and equity.
Ramaswamy’s stated central goal is to revive our “shared national identity.” This involves bringing Americans together around common values (eliminating wokeness), replacing identity politics with merit (abolishing affirmative action), dismantling government bureaucracy, restoring free speech (ending cancel culture), and standing up against China. He describes patriotism as a value of which Americans are desperately in need.
Ramaswamy explained this vision in an appearance on Newsmax soon after announcing his candidacy: “We’re in the middle of this national identity crisis where if you ask most people my age, really any age in America today, what it means to be an American, you get a blank stare in response. And I think that is a vacuum at the heart of the American soul that creates an opportunity for the GOP to fill it with a vision of American national identity that runs so deep that it dilutes this woke cancer to irrelevance.”
Unlike Trump, Ramaswamy frequently discusses the importance of family and what he calls “first principles.” He invokes figures such as Alexis de Tocqueville to diagnose where America has gone wrong and to describe how the country could return to being made up of tight-knit communities united around family and a set of common values.
At a diner in New Hampshire last week, for example, Ramaswamy told voters, “This is what’s going on in our country: we’re all hungry for a cause, we’re hungry for purpose, and we’re hungry for an identity, at a time when the things that used to fill our hunger — faith, patriotism, hard work and family — these things have disappeared.”
Ramaswamy’s prioritization of his idealistic vision of creating a shared national purpose and identity is perhaps why he has criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for being an “implementer,” which invokes the idea that DeSantis has no vision himself and is merely putting a set of policies into place.
But Ramaswamy’s weakness lies in being more a visionary with lofty goals of changing hearts and minds than an implementer. More and more voters may be inspired by Ramaswamy’s vision of a more united and less woke country, but it would take a leap of faith to trust that the businessman could bring it into political effect.
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