Vivek Ramaswamy fights Ron DeSantis for 2nd place in Republican polls

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Vivek Ramaswamy at the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

Eight candidates were present yesterday, for the first Republican debate: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, Mike Pence, former vice-president to Mr Trump and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. But the real battle is for the second place: Vivek Ramaswamy, 38, is hoping to take advantage to get closer to Ron DeSantis, in second place in the polls.

The situation appears to be unfolding rapidly, as it seems to be concluded even before commencing. Donald Trump was eager to convey this notion as he justified his absence from the televised debate among the contenders within his party, broadcasted on Fox News. He will also be absent from the subsequent debate on September 27th. Donald Trump’s rationale is that Republican voters are already well-acquainted with him, and his lead over his primary opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is insurmountable. According to a CBS News poll, his lead stood at 46 points as of Sunday.

During the summer, the indictments followed one another for the former president. But no rival took advantage of it. Donald Trump therefore took the risk of letting others talk about him, in front of the cameras, as he prepares to appear before a judge in Fulton County, Georgia, for his key role in the attempted manipulation of the 2020 presidential election. The debate showed that he was right: no other Republican candidate has managed to embody a credible alternative to him. The debate therefore resembled a contest of eloquence for second place.

A 38-year-old millionaire who made his fortune in biotechnology with the company Roivant, and a skilled speaker with a fast flow, Vivek Ramaswamy is a familiar face in the conservative base. Several polls put him third in the race, closer and closer to Ron DeSantis. In recent years, he was a frequent guest on right-wing channels. After hesitating to run for a senator’s post in Ohio, he chose to participate in the most exposed of American elections, driven by an unusual self-confidence. He multiplied the meetings in the first two states of the primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire. His obvious thirst for fame may seem childish, but the Trump era has learned to neglect no one anymore.

Ramaswamy positions himself as an outsider who challenges established institutions and conventions. He aspires to replicate the Trumpian victory of 2016: entering politics without prior experience, defying analysts’ scepticism, offering a fresh face, and using televised debates to boost his popularity. The condition for such a miracle: showering Donald Trump with praise and only distancing himself from him on minor issues. Ramaswamy has invited all other candidates to promise to pardon the former president if he is convicted, should they win the White House.

Son of Indian immigrants, he was born in Cincinnati (Ohio), from an engineer father at General Electrics and a psychiatrist mother in geriatrics. Educated in a traditional Hindu family, he attended a Catholic high school in the city. In the campaign, he never misses the opportunity to emphasize his faith, an asset compared to Donald Trump. A graduate in biology from the prestigious Harvard University, he was an active debater there, also devoting himself to rap under the pseudonym of Da Vek. Also a graduate of Yale Law School, he is the author of several books, including a bestseller in which he denounces the politicization of big business seeking to appear virtuous.

Ramaswamy had announced his candidacy at the end of February in a video ticking the boxes of the national imagination. Much of his message focused on American identity. His main crusade consists in slaying the cult of differences, the famous “wokism” which would have alienated Americans from each other. Of an absolute liberal classicism, Vivek also attacks the Federal Reserve, of which he wants to dismiss 90% of the workforce.

One of his proposals is to raise the legal voting age from 18 to 25. Americans aged 18 could still participate in the elections provided they pass a civics test – like an immigrant applying for naturalization – or serve six months in the army or emergency services. Vivek plans to cut military aid to Israel, forgetting that it is essentially a disguised subsidy to American industry. He also promises a curious “strategic clarity” on Taiwan: he pledges to defend the island against any Chinese invasion, but only until 2028, when the United States would achieve self-sufficiency in semiconductors. As for Ukraine, the entrepreneur will oppose its candidacy for NATO. He plans to give Russia part of the Donbass it occupies.

Among voters who are at least considering supporting a candidate other than Mr. Trump, approximately 50% have indicated that they were watching the debate. This suggests that there is potential for a surge in support for any participating candidates who can connect with viewers during the debates.

Historically, strong debate performances have often had a positive impact on candidates’ standings. For instance, during the 2016 Republican election cycle, support for Mr. Trump increased from approximately 24% on the day of the first debate to just over 30% by the time of the second debate. Another candidate, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, experienced an even more significant rise in opinion polls, jumping from 5.8% on the day of the first debate to about 20% by the time of the second debate.

However, whether any such surge in support will be sufficient to surpass Mr. Trump’s lead remains uncertain.

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