Vivek’s getting scary.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Early in his 2024 Republican presidential campaign, tech tyro Vivek Ramaswamy came across as an interesting if unconventional candidate full of blunt attacks on “wokeness,” challenges to old-school conservatism, and what passes for hipness in the GOP. After he momentarily surged into visibility in national and early-state polls, Ramaswamy began looking increasingly like a cat’s paw for front-runner Donald Trump, demanding that other candidates defend him from prosecutors and promise to pardon him if convicted. The 38-year-old self-funded first-time candidate also distinguished himself with nasty behavior in debates, aimed especially at Nikki Haley. At one point he provoked Haley into calling him “scum.”
It has been a good while since Ramaswamy was a semi-serious contender. In the RealClearPolitics national polling averages he peaked at 7.6 percent in late August and is now at 4.2 percent. Even as the field of contenders has shrunk steadily, he’s stuck in a distant fourth place in Iowa and fifth place in New Hampshire. But as the end of his campaign approaches, Ramaswamy has chosen to carve out a new identity as a far-right extremist testing the outer bounds of the MAGA movement. His determination to out-crazy even Trump was manifested in this stunning single sentence he offered near the end of the final RNC-sanctioned debate on December 6:
Why am I the only person, on the stage at least, who can say that January 6 now does look like it was an inside job; that the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11; that the “great replacement” theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory but a basic statement of the Democratic Party’s platform; that the 2020 election was indeed stolen by big tech; that the 2016 election, the one that Trump won for sure, was also one that was stolen from him by the National Security Establishment that actually put out the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that they knew was false?
His willful self-isolation was evidenced by the fact that he is indeed the only member of the most right-wing presidential field in American history to take all of these positions simultaneously, up to and including the deranged racist claim that Democrats want to “replace” white people with a surge of immigration by the wretched of the earth taken from the border directly to polling places.
Ramaswamy’s debate explosion wasn’t a one-off phenomenon. On the campaign trail in Iowa he has pounded away at the same extremist messages while adding in a environmental conspiracy theory with local resonance in the state, as explained by the Des Moines Register:
Vivek Ramaswamy is calling out Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa lawmakers and his presidential rivals for failing to match his criticism of the use of eminent domain to build carbon capture pipelines across private land.
The Republican presidential candidate and entrepreneur called using eminent domain for building the pipelines was “illegal and unconstitutional,” and criticized carbon capture as a “badly misguided” policy.
Republicans, he said, “have been trained to behave like circus monkeys” on both.
His own party, you see, has been dragged into supporting what Ramaswamy has called the climate change “hoax” via carbon-capture pipelines crossing Iowa.
The candidate’s race to the right has now been capped by his most notable Iowa endorsement: from disgraced former congressman Steve King, who lost a 2020 primary after being stripped of his committee assignments by House Republicans following repeated expressions of white-supremacist sentiments. The old nativist’s statement of support to Politico tells you everything you need to know about Ramaswamy’s new home in the fever swamps of extremism:
Vivek Ramaswamy is going to shock the world at the Iowa caucus because he is the only candidate in this race who’s had the courage to oppose the CO2 pipelines here in Iowa, to publicly oppose the climate change cult, to commit to pardon peaceful Jan 6 protestors on day 1, and to end birthright citizenship for kids of illegals in this country.
Ramaswamy had no problem welcoming King’s support and adding issues on which they agree, Politico reported:
We’ve found common cause on countless issues where other Republicans are too afraid to speak up — opposing the CO2 Pipelines here in Iowa, ending birthright citizenship, making English the national language, or shutting down the deep state. I expect we’ll make Steve look prescient on Jan 15.”
And he added an appreciation of King’s significance in the history of the far right:
Most people are sheep when it comes to making endorsements, but Steve doesn’t do what he’s ‘supposed to.’ He votes his conscience and that’s why I respect him. Steve King was America First before it was cool. The likes of Steve King & Pat Buchanan were the OGs.
If Trump becomes the 47th president, Ramaswamy may yet have a future in national politics; otherwise, he may have condemned himself to irrelevance. It didn’t have to be this way: Had he taken his original message in a somewhat different direction, he could have ended the 2024 race perceived as an ally of libertarians (with whom he has flirted) rather than as an authoritarian apologist for racism. So he has very much chosen the unsavory company in which he now finds himself.