Governor Kim Reynolds wore a confused look on her face as Vivek Ramaswamy rapped Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to end a “Fair Side Chat” at the Iowa State Fair last week. The Republican presidential candidate recited the lyrics to a surprised audience before cutting the song short and handing the mic back to a befuddled Reynolds.
It was an awkward spectacle. But not as awkward as a series of conflicting comments made by and revelations about the biotech millionaire. To borrow a line from Eminem, people want to know, “Will the real Vivek Ramaswamy please stand up?”
TRUMP’S STALKING HORSE
Ramaswamy is Donald Trump’s stalking horse in this primary, providing cover to the former president and throwing a hoof at his rivals in the field. That’s no longer a matter of speculation.
In early 2023, Ramaswamy pitched his candidacy to allies in a meeting by arguing it could undermine Trump’s top rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, ABC News reported, citing a source on the call. “Ramaswamy would tell several other conservative activists that he believed that if he ran, it could stop DeSantis from running or impact his viability as a candidate if he did enter the race.”
Nothing about his campaign – which has been obsequious toward Trump and aggressively hostile toward DeSantis – defies the substance of that report. At present, he is not so much running for the presidency as he is auditioning for a role in a hypothetical second Trump administration.
But as part of his shadowing Trump and pandering to the die-hard pro-Trump crowd, Ramaswamy has been forced to speak out of both sides of his mouth.
For example, he took to Twitter to condemn the “two-tiered justice system in this country,” citing the Hunter Biden plea deal, calling it a “joke from the start.” Ramaswamy did not mince words then about what he considers an injustice.
“There cannot be a two-tiered justice system in this country. If there’s a special counsel for the Trump cases, there needs to be one for the Biden cases too,” he tweeted on July 26, 2023. “Public distrust of the American justice system is at an all-time high, and sadly it’s for good reason.”
In August, however, Ramaswamy would say something very different. He told the New York Post he was “open” to a pardon for Hunter Biden, a beneficiary of the “two-tiered justice system in this country.”
“After the [sic] I am leading the great revival. After we have shut down the FBI, after we have refurbished the Department of Justice, after we have systemically pardoned anyone who was a victim of a political motivated persecution – from Donald Trump and peaceful January 6 protests – then would I would be [sic] open to evaluating pardons for members of the Biden family in the interest of moving the nation forward,” he told the Post.
EVIDENCE OF A PLOT?
When observers took note of the flip, Ramaswamy characterized the criticism as evidence of a plot against him. The swamp had come to claim him as its victim. It was right out of Trump’s playbook for dealing with detractors.
“I respect my competitors in this GOP primary, but it’s deeply disappointing to see some of their teams - more precisely, their Super PACs - spew so many lies in response to our momentum,” he tweeted. “No, I don’t have any plans to pardon Hunter Biden. It’s planted trash. When you strike the swamp, the swamp strikes back.”
But beneath that tweet, a community note, citing the Post interview published two days prior, stated: “Whether or not he has ‘plans’ to pardon Hunter Biden, he has mentioned it as a possibility:” The community note also highlighted that this wasn’t the only time he had suggested the possibility of a pardon.
GUNS FOR TAIWANESE FAMILIES
Ramaswamy performed a similar maneuver on foreign policy recently.
At the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in April, he proposed a bold plan to defend Taiwan from China. “You want China not to invade Taiwan? Here is something we can do: The NRA can open its branch next time in Taiwan,” Ramaswamy said. “And you want to stop [Chinese President] Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan, put a gun in every Taiwanese household, have them defend themselves, let’s see what Xi Jinping does then. That is what it means to be an actual American.”
The crowd liked the answer. There was certainly hyperbole in it. But it was also targeted. Ramaswamy knew what people wanted to hear. Saying Taiwan should fend for itself instead of relying on others is consistent with “America First” messaging on foreign policy, and that was Ramaswamy’s audience.
But by August, he was striking a different note on foreign affairs in a different format than a convention filled with Trump supporters.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Ramaswamy said “Xi Jinping should not mess with Taiwan until we have achieved semiconductor independence.” After that, he suggested, China could do as it pleased with it.
“You are saying ‘I will go to war, including attacking the Chinese mainland, if you attack before semiconductor independence. And afterwards, you can have Taiwan. So if you just wait until 2029, you may have Taiwan,’” Hewitt replied. “I mean, that’s what you’re saying. ‘I’ll go to war…’” Ramaswamy cut him off, and the interview ended shortly after that, earlier than expected.
Hewitt asked good questions. Is Ramaswamy open to doing more than arming the people of Taiwan with crates of weapons? Would he use the U.S. military to counter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? A campaign aide told the New York Post that his talk with Hewitt ended ahead of schedule due to a miscommunication. But maybe not.
The third – but not final – flip came most recently on the issue of GOP debates. Back in May, Ramaswamy took an unequivocally hard stance: Trump should attend, and it would look bad if he refused.
“I fully expect to see Donald Trump on that debate stage,” he said. “But if he doesn't show up on that debate stage, that will be the best proof that the Donald Trump of today is not the same Donald Trump as in 2016.”
NOT SUBJECT TO SAME SCRUTINY
Then Trump announced his decision to do just what Ramaswamy said he shouldn’t. He will skip the first debate – and, he said – refuse to attend any GOP primary debates. The pharma millionaire quickly updated his position. Semafor’s Shelby Talcott reported on Aug. 19 that Ramaswamy now has “no problem” with Trump skipping debates.
Ramaswamy has not been subject to the same scrutiny as other candidates in the primary by Trump-aligned influencers and media personalities. Indeed, some of them abruptly transitioned from attacking and mocking Ramaswamy to uncritically promoting him. It was a mystery as to why until recently. “Vivek is a real positive addition to the campaign,” tweeted Rudy Giuliani earlier this month.
That may have been truer than America's Mayor realized.