When Donald Trump was indicted in Manhattan court last month, all of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination were clearly laboring over how to respond.
That is, except for one.
Vivek Ramaswamy is not a governor, nor is he a senator, nor even an elected official. Instead, he’s a 37-year old entrepreneur and self-described “anti-woke” activist. And when Trump was indicted, Ramaswamy almost immediately declared his solidarity with Trump.
Minutes after the news broke, Ramaswamy tweeted a direct to camera video where he lamented the “politically motivated indictment” marking “a dark moment in American history.” Within hours, he was on air with Tucker Carlson, warning his millions of viewers that, “if they can do it to Trump, they can do it to you.”
The episode encapsulated exactly why the previously little-known Republican has been able to muscle his way to relevance in the 2024 contest: quick political instinct, unquenchable media thirstiness, and a curiously warm approach to the man he presumably must beat to win the GOP nomination.
While viable Trump rivals like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis struggle with how to handle the former president, Ramaswamy has openly praised and defended him and attacked other candidates—raising his standing in the polls and predictably landing him on Trumpworld’s radar.
“People are paying attention,” a source close to Trump told The Daily Beast. “It didn’t take him 30 minutes or three days to consult with his advisers, he got that up within minutes of the indictment happening. He has political instinct.”
Publicly, Trump has only had good things to say about Ramaswamy. “The thing I like about Vivek is that he only has good things to say about ‘President Trump,’” he said in a post on his social media site this month.
What’s more, the two are not strangers. According to a source familiar with the meetings, Trump and Ramaswamy had dinner at Trump’s New Jersey golf club in the summer of 2021, and spoke in April backstage at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Nashville. (The Bedminster meeting was first reported by Rolling Stone, in which sources said Trumpworld wanted to leverage Ramaswamy to “ratfuck” DeSantis.)
In GOP circles, more and more are convinced there is an unofficial alliance between the party’s once and future frontrunner and a millennial pharmaceutical entrepreneur promising to spend millions of his own money to fund his campaign.
For Trump, the upside of Ramaswamy’s aggressive campaign is clear: it hurts DeSantis far more than it hurts him. To the extent Ramaswamy had a brand before his 2024 run, it was built on his crusading against “woke” culture—a subject on which many see him as a stronger messenger than DeSantis.
“He’s impressing a lot of people,” the source close to Trump said. “He’s got his own message to run on. I think he provides tremendous complications to Ron DeSantis, especially on a debate stage, when Ron is trying to paint himself as the anti-woke candidate.”
In a statement, Ramaswamy spokesperson Tricia McLaughlin insisted it was the former, but nodded to their relationship.
“Vivek is running for President of the United States to revive our nation and that means defeating everyone else in the field, including Donald Trump,” she said. “Still, there is a strong degree of mutual respect between Vivek and Trump in a way that does not exist anywhere else in the field. Vivek has been very explicit about drawing contrasts between himself and the former president. He would do things differently. He wouldn’t just put Betsy DeVos atop the Department of Education, he [sic.] the whole thing. He wouldn’t just build the wall, he would use the military to actually secure our border.”
For Ramaswamy, though, the calculus is less clear. His apparent coziness with Trump has fueled speculation among Republican insiders over what, exactly, his endgame is—whether that’s playing to win or just boosting his profile for the next gig or campaign.
The most straightforward theory is that Ramaswamy is positioning himself for a plum job in a hypothetical Trump administration, whether that’s as a running-mate or something else.
“He wants to be considered for VP,” a second Trump adviser told The Daily Beast, agreeing with others that an administration role could be a motivation behind his largely self-funded campaign.
“I think the guy sees a pathway to at least number two,” the Trump loyalist continued, “and a lot of Republicans who are watching what’s happening in the indictment space and all that. So I think his eyes are on the prize.”
Several Trump campaign insiders have said, however, Ramaswamy is definitively out of the running for a potential VP slot—which, as The Daily Beast previously reported, has been solely considered among a shortlist of women—but could be in the mix for what some described as a “Larry Kudlow-type slot” as an economic adviser of some sort.
Another source in Trump’s orbit joked that The Daily Beast should refer to the ambitious millennial as “Ambassador Ramaswamy” from now on.
But not everyone is so sure. The source close to Trump who painted Ramswamy as an asset on the debate stage pushed back on the notion that he is merely chasing a boost to his resume.
“Why would a guy wanna spend $100 million to become Treasury Secretary?” the source said. “I think the guy thinks he could win.”
By all available metrics, Ramaswamy finds himself doing as well or better than his more high-profile rivals. Recent primary polls have shown him tied with, or even beating, figures like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former Gov. Nikki Haley, and former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ).
For more traditional Republicans, making a dent in the polls and the modern attention economy have proven elusive. Yet for reasons that align in the Trump campaign’s interests, Ramaswamy enjoys a freedom of movement not granted to other challengers beyond a passive aggressive “welcome” or “good luck” he gave to the likes of Haley and Scott.
The Trump-Ramaswamy alliance of convenience, however unofficial or off the books it may be, is indicative of how the enduring power of the MAGA base remains a defining feature of the race—with Ramaswamy proving to be a new archetype for success in Trump’s GOP.
With a biology degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale, Ramaswamy quickly built a fortune—once estimated at roughly $600 million—by starting a pharmaceutical company called Roivant Sciences.
In 2021, he co-founded an asset management firm explicitly opposed to one of the right’s bugaboos—“environmental, social, and corporate governance,” or ESG—which got him airtime on Fox News and speaking slots at conservative conferences. So did his books, Woke, Inc. and Nation of Victims, which cracked the New York Times bestseller lists.
In February, Politico reported on Ramaswamy’s exploratory trips to Iowa, where he talked to crowds about satisfying the nation’s “moral hunger.” Later that month, he launched his presidential campaign, declaring, “we’re in the middle of a national identity crisis… Faith, patriotism and hard work have disappeared, only to be replaced by new secular religions.”
So far, Ramaswamy is more a Trump imitator in theme than in style. The recurring motifs of his stump speech are many of the same items that animate the Trump base, but are delivered in more polished, pseudo-scientific jargon like “gender ideology,” “climate-ism,” and “COVID-ism.”
Interestingly, Ramaswamy’s camp seems to have embraced the playbook of another ambitious, well-credentialed 30-something attempting to vault from obscurity to national prominence in a presidential campaign: now-Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
One GOP strategist said Ramaswamy has executed “the Buttigieg strategy” of appearing on TV networks big and small—not to mention the podcast circuit and other earned media opportunities—which was a hallmark of the former small town mayor’s 2020 campaign for president.
Ramaswamy’s omnipresence, of course, comes at the expense of everyone but Trump.
“He’s going anywhere and talking to anybody, which is relatively successful because the more and more you’re willing to do the shows, the more and more they’ll have you back and you can pick up oxygen,” a strategist without a candidate in the race told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to avoid involving any clients.
“I think not swinging at Trump is a smart strategy because people who swing at Trump lose,” the strategist continued. “So you could say there’s a lane for Vivek to win? No, obviously not. But he’s only gained momentum in the polls and he’s closer to Ron than Ron is to Trump. That’s a big problem for DeSantis.”
But Ramaswamy shares a Trumpian killer instinct when it comes to attacking his rivals—at least those not named Trump. From the Sunday show circuit to local news in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has taken plenty of swipes at DeSantis, often around his reluctance to face questions from the press. He’s also called the Florida governor “sloppy” and incapable of “having independent thoughts of his own.”
A Republican strategist backing a rival candidate said they’re not sweating any perceived early momentum from Ramaswamy. The assumption, for now, is that his bid “probably hurts DeSantis the most.”
On the staffing side, working for the Ramaswamy operation isn’t seen as a barrier to future employment within Trumpworld or MAGA-leaning offices on Capitol Hill, especially for 20-something Republican junior staffers who could get more experience and better pay on the self-funder’s team than elsewhere.
“People wanna work for him because, yeah, he’s challenging Trump, but he’s doing it in a different way,” the source close to Trump said. “People aren’t as afraid to work for him and lose compared to Ron DeSantis.”
Although the extent of Trump and Ramaswamy’s relationship is unclear aside from the pair of meetings, from the outside, Republican campaign operatives see Trump’s warmth toward him as a predictable play. As The Daily Beast reported at the outset of the campaign, the Trump team has been keen on leveraging a crowded field of rivals to their advantage.
A source in Trump’s orbit repeatedly depicted the longshot’s campaign as “cute,” while a Trump campaign adviser was more diplomatic when asked what they made of neither candidate showing much of an appetite to criticize the other.
“I don’t want to opine on one of the other candidates necessarily,” the Trump adviser—who has previously opined on plenty of other candidates—told The Daily Beast, “but he’s a nice guy and a hard charger.”
Everyone, however, is clear-eyed about what will happen to Ramaswamy if he ever becomes a real threat to Trump and his team.
“If he gets in the number two slot,” a source close to Trump said,” “the attacks and the guns will aim on him.”