Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old longtime fan of the rapper Eminem and “anti-woke” businessman, is facing the noise on the 2024 Republican presidential campaign trail over his perpetual walking back of prior claims and position changes on key issues.
It’s a trend that has often seen the White House hopeful clash with members of the press, accusing reporters on multiple occasions of publishing “planted trash” and false stories in connection to Ramaswamy’s flip-flops. Prior to the Washington Examiner publishing this story, Ramaswamy campaign spokeswoman Tricia McLaughlin posted the outlet’s written request for comment on social media, noting, “Gotta wonder if @gekaminsky is on Never Back Down’s payroll or if these are just in-kind campaign contributions,” referring to a super PAC boosting the presidential campaign for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
Ramaswamy, an ex-pharmaceutical executive who rose to prominence following the publishing of his 2021 book, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice, is polling in third place in the GOP primary behind DeSantis, who himself is clocking in double-digits behind former President Donald Trump, according to a RealClearPolitics survey average. The first Republican debate is on Wednesday with Fox News, though Trump will not be in attendance. Instead, a prerecorded interview he gave to Tucker Carlson, the popular conservative commentator recently ousted by the network, will air around the time of the debate, according to a source familiar.
As one of the few presidential candidates who hasn’t ever served in elected office, Ramaswamy has sought to position himself as an “outsider” who, like Trump, purportedly has the will to “drain the swamp” and also brings a fresh perspective based on lack of prior political participation. The candidate repeatedly alleged in interviews that the first time he voted in an election was in 2020 for Trump, though he later admitted to the Washington Examiner in July he punched the ticket in 2004 after the outlet pointed to election records in Ohio.
“This is the most false & intentionally deceitful headline of the campaign so far,” Ramaswamy posted on social media in late July despite previously telling the Washington Examiner over the phone when it brought the voting discrepancy to his attention, “I appreciate you smoking that out for me. That was actually useful.”
The outburst isn’t unique for Ramaswamy, who attended Yale Law School and Harvard University for his undergraduate degree.
The Republican told the New York Post in mid-August he “would be open to evaluating pardons for members of the Biden family in the interest of moving the nation forward” if he were elected president, then on social media soon after the story was published, Ramaswamy declared, “No, I don’t have any plans to pardon Hunter Biden. It’s planted trash. When you strike the swamp, the swamp strikes back.”
When Fox News ran a story two days later in August with the headline, “Vivek Ramaswamy breaks with GOP on decriminalization of hard drugs: ‘I’m in that direction,'” which quoted the candidate saying, “I think in the long run, and I’m talking about over a long run period of time, decriminalization, serially, is an important part of the long run solution here,” Ramaswamy also labeled it “planted trash.” The Republican claimed he was strictly referring to “decriminalizing ayahuasca & ketamine for veterans suffering from PTSD,” adding, “When you strike the swamp, the swamp strikes back.”
One senior Republican strategist said those who decide to run for president should be prepared for the “scrutiny” that comes along with seeking the nation’s highest office while also being honest with voters.
“There will be gaffes, old statements, and new crises that must be addressed,” Zach Hunter, ex-vice president of the Congressional Leadership Fund and American Action Network, two affiliated Republican-aligned groups, told the Washington Examiner. “Every candidate takes a different path through the media minefield, but voters are still savvy enough to sniff out a fake. It’s best to own any past issues and refocus on the future as quickly as possible.”
One area in which Ramaswamy has notably flip-flopped is foreign policy.
Two months ago, the candidate denied to the Washington Free Beacon that he was open to ending military financial support to Israel after the outlet cited footage from the campaign trail in which he reportedly expressed a contrary view. In June, Ramaswamy said on the Breakfast Club radio show, “Yeah, that was a false reporting, actually,” and, “No, I did not,” upon the host, Charlamagne tha God, saying, “You told a voter that you were open to ending foreign aid to Israel. Then it was reported that it was a misunderstanding,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Ramaswamy told the outlet on Saturday, however, that he now supports phasing out most Israel aid by 2028, so “it will not require and be dependent on that same level of historical aid or commitment from the U.S.” Republican presidential candidate and ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley then said in a statement, “Vivek Ramaswamy is completely wrong to call for ending America’s special bond with Israel” and that the two “countries are stronger and safer because of our iron-clad friendship.”
Then there’s Ramaswamy’s take on the issue of what role the United States should play as relations heighten between the authoritarian country of China and Taiwan, an island that the People’s Republic of China has governed since 1949. Congressional Republicans have pushed for the U.S. government to support Taiwan’s independence.
Ramaswamy said in April one way to stop China from invading Taiwan could be the National Rifle Association opening a branch in Taiwan, adding, “And you want to stop [Chinese President] Xi Jinping from invading Taiwan, put a gun in every Taiwanese household, have them defend themselves, let’s see what Xi Jinping does then. That is what it means to be an actual American.”
But then, in August, Ramaswamy expressed the view that Xi should merely not invade Taiwan until the U.S. achieves “semiconductor independence” in 2028. “And after that, our commitments to Taiwan, our commitments to be willing to go to military conflict, will change after that because that’s rationally in our self-interest,” Ramaswamy said.
“Ramaswamy probably feels like he can just sort of deflect on these things and sort of shoot the messenger, just because Trump can get away with it,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the University of Virginia’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political analysis newsletter, told the Washington Examiner. “Just because Trump can get away with it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else can.”
Meanwhile, Ramaswamy has also expressed differing views on domestic culture war-adjacent issues. In 2020, he called a bill “sensible” from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would provide people taxpayer-backed masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Aug. 1, 2023, Ramaswamy replied, “No,” when asked if he “ever supported ‘Masks for All’ legislation by Bernie Sanders,” records show.
In June, Ramaswamy posted a video on Twitter about the federal holiday Juneteenth, which aims to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., calling it “a celebration of the American dream itself.” Prominent conservative writers have occasionally argued the holiday appears to be a mechanism to further left-leaning notions like systemic racism and aims to replace Independence Day on July 4.
Just two months later, in August, Ramaswamy told voters in Iowa that Juneteenth was “useless.”
“Cancel Juneteenth or one of the other useless ones we made up,” he said, as NBC News reported. “You can’t have everything be a holiday, but we’ll cancel one of the other ones and make Election Day a holiday.”
According to Kondik, a candidate like Ramaswamy who is roughly new to politics is “probably going to mess some things up,” though it’s unclear whether he “has something to hide” or just isn’t used to “the scrutiny that comes with a bigger platform.”
“He’s brand new and so he’s basically unvetted,” Kondik added. “It probably speaks to a lack of experience.”
In an email to the Washington Examiner, McLaughlin declined to offer an explanation for Ramaswamy’s changing views and instead wrote, “Are you paid by the desantis camp directly or is this an in-kind contribution?”