In his battle against Ron DeSantis for the 2024 nomination, Donald Trump and his allies believe they’ve found a new weapon in their effort to bury the Florida governor.
His name is Vivek Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old “anti-woke” entrepreneur and one of the longshot 2024 Republican contenders who vows to be even Trumpier than Trump.
The explanation for the former president’s interest in Ramaswamy’s campaign is simple: The insurgent candidate has spent much of his run for office trashing Trump’s top rival, DeSantis. As Ramaswamy’s poll numbers and standing in the primary have risen a bit in recent weeks, so has Trump’s interest. The former president has praised him both publicly and privately, offered encouragement for his White House bid, and has even told Ramaswamy how good-looking he is.
When asked how Trumpland generally views the former president’s boosting of Vivek 2024, one Trump adviser bluntly tells Rolling Stone that “of course” it’s a “total ratfuck” against DeSantis.
Starting in early March, multiple Trump advisers began telling Rolling Stone that the team was keeping an eye on Ramaswamy, and were expecting (and hoping for) a coming polling boomlet for the candidate. This, the advisers said, would force DeSantis to expend resources attacking Ramaswamy and other lower-polling, non-Trump candidates. There are already signs that Team DeSantis is sensing increasing threats from below, with top DeSantis allies going out of their way to snipe at candidates like Nikki Haley, even as the governor insists it’s only a two-man race between him and Trump.
And according to two people who’ve spoken to Trump about Ramaswamy in the past couple months, the ex-president has explicitly said he likes what Ramaswamy is saying about DeSantis, and that “I’m not going to attack Vivek” — unless he starts coming after Trump.
The ex-president also noted how well Ramaswamy presents himself on TV, and how much he appreciates the candidate regularly lauding the Trump administration. This year, Trump has at times joked about the possibility of Ramaswamy using his presidential run to audition for a slot in a potential second Trump term, with the former president asking confidants: “Does he want a job?”
Ramaswamy, of course, says he sees things a little differently.
“I am running for the nomination, and am running to defeat everyone else in the field, including Donald Trump. However, I think there is a strong degree of mutual respect between me and Trump in a way that does not exist anywhere else in the field,” Ramaswamy tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve been very explicit about drawing contrasts between me and the former president, and how I would do things differently. I wouldn’t just put Betsy DeVos atop the Department of Education, I would shutter the whole thing. I wouldn’t just build the wall, I would use the military to actually secure our border.”
Asked about any recent personal interactions with Trump, he adds: “The only time I’ve spoken to him since my campaign launched was very briefly backstage at the recent NRA meeting [last month in Indianapolis], as I walked off stage and he walked on. He was impressed with my audience response, and then we busted each other’s chops. I told him one way or another, it’s going to be an outsider in 2024. He quipped back: ‘If you catch up to me, we’re going to have a problem.’ We laughed, shook hands, and went our ways. That was about it. I look forward to seeing him next on the debate stage.”
Earlier this month, Politico reported that Trump’s former campaign chief Corey Lewandowski “has spoken with a pro-Vivek Ramaswamy super PAC about coming on board — and ran the idea by the former president before doing so.” According to that report, Trump, unsurprisingly, “did not raise any objections.”
Amid the newly crowded GOP primary field, Ramaswamy has focused his ire primarily on one candidate — DeSantis — while leaving others largely untouched. He’s accused the Florida governor of copying his talking points, hiding from unfriendly media interviews, and crony capitalism in throwing Disney “special privileges” in Florida before trying to take them away. “He said he wanted to roll back those [Disney] special privileges. Unfortunately one of the special privileges was legislated into law under Ron DeSantis himself,” Ramaswamy said during an appearance on Fox News.
The combination of Trump praise and an attack-dog focus on DeSantis has earned him some public plaudits from the frontrunner in the primary. In early May, Trump released a statement saying he was “pleased” that Ramaswamy was “doing so well in the most recent Republican Primary Poll.”
It’s still early in the Republican primary but Ramaswamy has gone from obscurity to fifth place in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, and is now earning 3.6 percent of the vote (compared to none at all before). That may not sound like much, especially stacked against DeSantis’ 19.4 percent average — but it could be just enough for Team Trump, if Ramaswamy and others start siphoning a significant amount of voters and attention away from DeSantis.
Ramaswamy was a virtual unknown in Republican politics prior to entering into the race for president. In contrast to the Republican field of governors and Trump administration veterans, Ramaswamy’s background is in biotech and finance, where he worked as the CEO of a pharmaceutical company and later as the director of a Peter Thiel-backed investment fund.
The former financier used those experiences as grist for his book, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, which doubles as a campaign manifesto. Like DeSantis, Ramaswamy has waded into the culture wars by declaring war on “woke” corporations deemed excessively sensitive to the needs of minority groups.
According to two people familiar with the matter, Trump and Ramaswamy’s casual relationship dates back to around the summer of 2021, when Ramaswamy first met the twice-impeached former president for a dinner at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey golf club. During the hours-long gathering, the pair had a wide-ranging conversation that included Ramaswamy sometimes telling Trump that on issues such as foreign policy, he didn’t go far enough with his conservative-nationalist agenda in his first term.
Still, it was clear that Trump seemed charmed by the MAGA-fied entrepreneur. At various points during this dinner, the sources say, Trump would turn to other dinner guests, point at Ramaswamy, then comment on his “energy.” On top of that, the former president repeatedly commended Ramaswamy’s physical appearance, telling him that he was “very handsome.” (Trump has a long history of telling influential or notable men he likes how hot he thinks they are.)
Meanwhile, much of the 2024 Trump campaign’s resources right now are being devoted to — in their words — constantly “mindfuck[ing]” DeSantis and his allies. As Rolling Stone previously reported, one of the reasons Trumpworld’s onslaught against DeSantis feels so personal and nasty isn’t just because of Trump’s dislike of the governor. It’s because several of the former president’s lieutenants know or have worked for DeSantis, and viscerally loathe the guy to the point of craving his political destruction.
Moreover, the adviser adds that it is Trump’s intention to offer similar, consistent attaboys to several lower-tier GOP presidential rivals — candidates Team Trump believes will drain support away from the Florida governor.
On Monday, following South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s entry into the 2024 presidential field, the former president released a statement reading, “Good luck to Senator Tim Scott in entering the Republican Presidential Primary Race.” Seemingly self-aware that a crowded field likely benefits his ambitions, the ex-president added the GOP primary “is rapidly loading up with lots of people.”
Trump’s statement also got to the heart of the matter, and wrote: “Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable.”