Vivek Ramaswamy did not attract as much attention when he launched his presidential bid in February.
A 37-year-old billionaire who made his fortune working at a hedge fund and later as a biotech entrepreneur, Ramaswamy had never served in government and was new to politics. He began to make a name for himself as an «anti-wake» crusader, but it was not a name most Republican voters had ever heard of.
But that is changing. Ramaswamy has covered the trail of early states, as well as the conservative and mainstream media, adopting a strategy that has him ubiquitous in Republican presidential primaries.
That strategy seems to be working.
On Monday, Ramaswamy placed third nationally in the primary field in the FiveThirtyEight Polling Aggregatealthough still a healthy distance from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who trails far behind former President Donald Trump. A number of national surveys have recently shown ramaswamy growing.
If the movement in the polls has surprised some, don’t count the candidate among them.
«Maybe it happened a little bit sooner than we expected,» he told NBC News in an interview. «But at the time we started this race, I believed that I was running to be the next president of the United States and lead a national renaissance.»
“We are just warming up,” he added.
Tune in for an exclusive live interview with Ramaswamy on «Hallie Jackson NOW» at 5 pm ET on Tuesday, July 25 at NBC News NOW.
For months, voters frequently mentioned Ramaswamy on NBC News in interviews during the election campaign as someone they wanted to know more about or were particularly interested in, even if it wasn’t ultimately for president.
“I think Vivek has a very good chance — he’s not a favorite, but he’s very smart,” Madison Kirshner, a Pittsburgh voter who supports Trump, said at the Turning Point Action conference this month. “I like listening to him talk. I think he has a very good chance and would be in a great position to be Trump’s vice president.»
Although much of Ramaswamy’s messaging focuses on criticizing left-wing positions on social issues and condemning identity politics, his identity appealed to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, who expressed a desire for a non-white Republican millennial to rise in the party.
Throw in a communications strategy that includes speaking to any outlet across the spectrum and doing as much outlet as your campaign can handle, and Ramaswamy can cast himself as the Republican answer to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who emerged from relative obscurity as Ivy League-educated small-town mayor in the 2020 Democratic primary camp before dropping out and endorsing President Joe Biden.
“Vivek was a nice surprise,” Lynn Proudfoot, a conservative activist in Iowa, said after the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring launch earlier this year. “He’s young, he’s ethnic, he’s a Bible-believing Christian. Just everything that he thinks would appeal to a cross section of our people, others. He is a smart guy. And I definitely want to know more about him and follow him more closely.”
(Ramaswamy is actually hindu.)
Ramaswamy, who says he has qualified for the first presidential debate, was quick to promise to pardon Trump if elected, released a list of possible Supreme Court nominees and outlined plans to shut down the FBI and the Department of Education. He went viral for a recent interaction with an abortion rights protester at one of his events and revealed an amazing fundraising strategy that will give donors 10% of the total amount of money they raise for him.
However, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for Ramaswamy right now. His numbers in the polls are something less Impressive in early crucial states. Although he raised $7.74 million last quarter, $5 million came from the candidate himself, with the remaining course behind the rivals like Trump; DeSantis; Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C.; and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
What’s more, some rivals still don’t see the millennial candidate as much of a threat.
«He’s not a real candidate,» said a rival campaign operative, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly on the matter. “His campaign of him is built on Twitter. He is everything to everyone always. We don’t really think about him. And at no time are we going to commit to him.”
As it stands, Ramaswamy’s campaign is seen by some not as a presidential bid, but as a bid for greater party prominence, perhaps a more lucrative cabinet post or pundit. But the candidate insists that he is in the race for one purpose: to win.
“I don’t do well at a No. 2 position,” Ramaswamy said. “I got to where I am by being a leader. There is a lot of talent in the Republican Party and many other people who could do a great job in Cabinet positions or otherwise. That’s not why I’m in this. It’s to win.»
Terry Sullivan, campaign manager for Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid, said Ramaswamy is following a long list of long shots «catching lightning in a bottle in a presidential race with strong messages and big personalities.»
“The question is can they turn that into a winning campaign? Traditionally, the answer is no. But the guy has a compelling message,” she added. “However, the reality is that you have to go out there and win somewhere first. And secondly, the fact is they can say what they want about Ron DeSantis, but Vivek is not getting the same level of scrutiny that Ron DeSantis is.»
At what point are they going to sit down and say, ‘My God, he’s got a chance’?
Iowa State Senator Scott Webster
Rivals say that could soon change for Ramaswamy, who they say has benefited from a short time under the microscope.
«It’s not going to survive scrutiny,» said an operative aligned with a second campaign, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly on the matter. «And he deserves a little scrutiny.»
A Trump campaign official echoed the assessment, saying Ramaswamy has been able to appear authentic along the way in large part «because he hasn’t had to take a position on anything before.»
«So it’s easy to be authentic when someone doesn’t point out the differences you said X number of times ago,» this person added, noting that the candidate has crossed the former president’s radar as «a very good speaker.»
Ramaswamy rejected the idea that he has not been subject to more intense scrutiny, saying that he has been willing to engage with media across the spectrum on a number of issues. He said it was «improper» for Republican candidates not to commit to more press.
“I think facing scrutiny will be much more difficult for candidates who have been hiding from it, rather than candidates like me who have been openly embracing 360-degree open speech with people who disagree with us,” he said.
More recently, Ramaswamy has begun to receive more critical coverage. Semafor recently reported that the investment firm he founded to roll back ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment policies widely derided by conservatives is now reducing its «anti-wake-up» rhetoric in hopes of courting more investors. (Ramaswamy resigned as CEO to run for president.)
AND ABC News Last week he highlighted Ramaswamy’s strong condemnation of Trump’s actions related to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol that the candidate issued immediately after the riots, despite Ramaswamy recently telling conservative pundit Tucker Carlson that the cause of the Capitol riots was «pervasive censorship.»
Ramaswamy said his response was not a contradiction, noting that the tweet condemning Trump was in response to a response to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece he wrote in which he warned that further «crackdown on dissent» by tech companies could lead to outbreaks of violence worse than «embarrassing» riots.
“And my point was, ‘No, I’m not [condoning Trump’s behavior],'» he said. «Actually, I would have made very different judgments than yours. And yet, I still believe that he was not the cause of what happened on January 6.»
Ramaswamy stands out on the campaign trail for his defense of Trump, sometimes embracing and loudly praising the man he wants to see succeed at the top of the Republican Party, while many of his rivals seek a middle ground, though he has recently begun putting more space between himself and his main rival.
As is the case with many of the contenders looking to overtake Trump to the top of the primary field, the first presidential debate next month will be a great test to see if Ramaswamy can build on his momentum or stall. But Ramaswamy isn’t worried about whether or not Trump himself shows up. In fact, he hopes he doesn’t, comparing his likely absence to a sports team that earned a playoff bye.
“I don’t think his appearance in the first debate matters much one way or the other,” Ramaswamy said. “At some point in this process, I think you absolutely should be involved in the discussions. … I look forward to being on that discussion stage with no holds barred, regardless of whether I show up or not.”
For now, Ramaswamy expects his campaign to make more policy pitches in the coming weeks, like his recent outline of his New Hampshire administrative reform plan. He also says that he has been able to gain «a greater sense of [what] the campaign is actually about” in recent weeks.
One of Ramaswamy’s early notable backers is Iowa State Senator Scott Webster, who dropped his endorsement of DeSantis in part because of DeSantis’ ongoing battle with Disney, one that had Webster uneasy. The Iowa Republican said voters and leaders should take Ramaswamy’s chances seriously.
«I notice when people see it for the first time, and you’re polling the 1-2%, they say, ‘Oh, he’s running for this.'» [or that].’ But now it’s at 10%,» Webster said. «At what point are they going to sit down and say, ‘My God, he’s got a chance’?»