The Icarus Effect: Vivek Ramaswamy's Flight Is Unlikely To Get Another Lift

The Icarus Effect: Vivek Ramaswamy's Flight Is Unlikely To Get Another Lift

by R Jagannathan - Monday, August 28, 2023 12:01 PM IST
The Icarus Effect: Vivek Ramaswamy's Flight Is Unlikely To Get Another LiftRepublican candidate for the 2024 US presidential elections, Vivek Ramaswamy.
  • For Indians who think that Vivek Ramaswamy is the next Hindu to hit the big time in a western democracy after Rishi Sunak, a reality check is in order.

    Here are the reasons why he won’t make it. The best he can hope for is a cabinet position.

A Hindu candidate from the Republican party, Vivek Ramaswamy, whose name most Americans would not be able to pronounce even with some training, is making waves in the US Presidential election.

After the recent 'debate', where eight candidates for the Republican nomination put forth their views, Ramaswamy was widely seen to have made the most impact on social media.

Polls show him trailing Ron DeSantis, earlier assumed to be the main challenger to Trump, by very small margins.

That the Republican debate ended up making Ramaswamy the target shows how seriously the others take him, now that he is shown to be rising in the polls.

Donald Trump, who continues to be the frontrunner for the nomination despite his many legal challenges, stayed away from the debate. He does not seem to have lost out from this indirect snub to other contestants and voters in general.

Many Indians are taking huge interest in the US polls due to the refreshing candour and unusual political positions (for Indians, that is) taken by Ramaswamy, both before and during the Republican party debate.

However, one must note that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of him ever making it as the Republican candidate for President even if Donald Trump is ruled out for legal reasons.

The party, if Trump were to be ruled out of the way, will not only heave a sigh of relief, but put up a more conventional candidate to take on Joe Biden in the November 2024 elections. It will not risk a Ramaswamy. 

Just as the Democrats shoved Biden in front once they realised what was at stake in the 2020 election — they could not afford another Trump win — the Republicans will do the same if Trump were not to be the nominee.

They cannot afford to alienate the core white Christian vote by nominating an unknown quantity like Ramaswamy.

At best, he might find himself a job in the next US government, that is if the Republicans win in 2024. He seems to have indicated a willingness to consider the Vice-Presidency, but that too cannot be seen as a real possibility.

Trump will not need a deputy Trump, and a non-Trump candidate will not want another Trump backer in the administration.

The reason why Ramaswamy is grabbing the headlines right now is because he has chosen to make conservative Republican themes his own, and that too without equivocation.

Among other things, he says he has been driven by the American Dream, that anyone who wants to can succeed with hard work and effort.

He is the ultimate anti-woke Republican, having written a book titled Woke Inc: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam!

His core beliefs would rile any card-carrying 'liberal', as he opposes affirmative action, pooh-poohs prospects of climate change, gives short-shrift to LGBTQIA+ activism, etc. He would also limit US support to the Ukrainians in their war against Russia.

Here is what he repeatedly says in his campaign speeches and close interactions with the media and the public (details in this Mother Jones report).

  1. God is real 

  2. There are two genders (no concessions to LGBTQIA+)

  3. Human flourishing requires fossil fuels

  4. Reverse racism is racism

  5. An open border is no border (the reference is to illegal Mexican immigration here)

  6. Parents should determine the education of children.

  7. The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.

  8. Capitalism lifts people up from poverty

  9. There are three branches of the US government, not four. (The fourth branch is supposedly the unelected media and social activism)

  10. The US Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedoms in history.

The question, though, is whether these clear positions will get him anything more than heightened media interest.

More so when he has chosen to be the strongest supporter of Donald Trump in the party.

In the debate, when the moderator asked all the eight speakers whether they would support Trump if the party were to nominate him, Ramaswamy’s was the first hand to rise.

Six others followed slowly, some reluctantly. Ramaswamy also said that he would pardon Trump on Day One if he were to be elected President.

So here is the core of Ramaswamy’s strength — and long-term weakness. His current showing may be directly related to his pro-Trump stand, which may make the diehard Trump voter soft on him. If the contest were to be resumed once Trump is off the ticket, Ramaswamy would probably start sinking. But he is certainly having the most fun, as Time magazine put it.

Here are the reasons why he won’t make it. The best he can hope for is a cabinet position.

One, he is too pro-Trump for his own good. If Trump is out, he will not find favour with any other Republican nominee.

Two, while Ramaswamy is vocal on his issues, it is far from clear that he can get Congress to do anything on any of his issues. In the Senate, Democrats dominate. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans have a wafer-thin majority.

In the debate, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie came across as more mature politicians than Ramaswamy. Mike Pence even called him a rookie. The average voter will know that for Ramaswamy to make good on any of his promises, he will need allies — which he clearly does not have right now.

Three, the Republican base, which has a crucial leg of support from neocons and born-again Christians, will not be happy with a Hindu heading the presidential fight.

Remember what happened to Tulsi Gabbard in 2020? She was tarred with the Hindu label and politically singed for her alleged closeness to Hindutva politics. This despite the fact that she seemed to be the Democrat (she has since quit the party) with the most gravitas.

Four, despite Conservative pushback in recent years, America is careening towards the Left of the economic and social spectrum, thanks to growing inequality and despondency about jobs (despite the recent spike based on excessive government spending).

Woke liberalism, which is another name for an Americanised form of Marxism, is unlikely to be dethroned by an out-and-out anti-Woke candidate like Ramaswamy.

It has to be taken on by middle-of-the-road Conservatives who can also appeal to the Centre of the political spectrum, which will include borderline Democrats.

For Indians who think that Vivek Ramaswamy is the next Hindu to hit the big time in a western democracy after Rishi Sunak, a reality check is in order. He has soared as high as he can already, and the way ahead is downwards. 

However, at 38, Ramaswamy has time (and his personal wealth) on his side. The presidential campaign has made his name known across the country. He can bob up again a few years later, when the country is more willing to consider him a candidate with real ballast.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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