Who is Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old entrepreneur and GOP presidential hopeful?
Updated August 23, 2023 at 11:15 PM ET
Vivek Ramaswamy, a political newcomer and former pharmaceutical executive, describes himself as a nationalist who believes that America needs to rebuild its sense of civic pride.
"I will unapologetically embrace and advance the ideals that this nation was founded on," Ramaswamy said in a conversation with The NPR Politics Podcast. "That is distinct from an opposite movement in this country, which increasingly wishes to apologize for a nation founded on those ideals, to apologize or moderate free speech or meritocracy or the rule of law evenly applied, or the idea that citizens can be trusted to sort out their differences on questions like climate change or racial equity."
"Maybe you would classify me as a nationalist," he said. "I think it's a label I'm willing to wear. I don't think that that has to be a bad word. As long as it's a nationalism built around the ideals that set a nation into motion, that can actually unite us as a country."
Here are some key takeaways from the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Born and raised in Ohio to parents who emigrated from India, Ramaswamy says seeking the presidency is about reviving a sense of national identity.
I'm not looking at this as building my own career. I'm looking at a need in our country and a job that needs to be done that I see very few people stepping up to actually deliver, which is to answer what it even means to be an American today — to revive our missing national identity, especially in the next generation of Americans.
We have completely lost our sense of civic pride, civic identity, civic duty, what it means to be a citizen of this nation. We have lost all sense of that. And I think a lot of our economic struggles and our foreign policy struggles start from that loss of American identity, that loss of civic pride. And so the reason I'm running for president is I do have a vision of what it means to be a citizen of this country. I've lived the full arc of the American dream.
He rejects the notion that "diversity is our strength" and believes that society has become too focused on race and sexual identity.
The thing about American identity that's beautiful to me is that it calls upon our distinctive humanity. The thing that makes us a human being rather than an animal is the fact that we can embrace ideals. I think that this alternative worldview of identity — grounded not in the ideals that we share in common, but rather in the genetic attributes we inherit on the day we're born — causes us to see ourselves as less than human, as just the sum total of those genetic attributes. And I just believe that — for us as human beings, for us as Americans — there is more to us.
The most interesting part of us is not our gender identity or the shade of melanin that we have on a given day. It is the set of values that unite us together as a people. And so I grew up into a generation where I was taught — we were all taught, I think — to believe that diversity is our strength. I reject that vision. I don't think our diversity is our strength. I think our strength is what unites us across that diversity. That is not America to me. And it's the America I see sometimes today. But it's not the America I know. It's not the America that I learned to pledge allegiance to as a kid.
Ramaswamy acknowledges that racist policies have existed at times in American history and he's "open to discussing" what role the government should play in addressing enduring social and racial inequality.
You'd have to have your head in the sand to read our history and not understand that there have been many points in our national history when we have been less than perfect and living up to our ideals. I mean, we had slavery in this country, right? We had even a period after slavery in the Reconstruction Era where voting rights weren't fully secured for Black Americans, for women, until, you know, that was constitutionally ordained in the later amendment. So, of course. I mean, this is obvious. I don't think there's an American today who believes these things to be false. I think that we all agree on this.
However, I think that at some point we're going to have to decide how we move on as a nation. And I think something peculiar has happened in the last few years in particular — it's when we get closest to the promised land that we become even more vehement in our claims that somehow we're systemically racist and misogynistic and homophobic and transphobic, right?
If you went back to 1860, if you went back to 1960 and then fast forwarded to a state of affairs today where no matter what your skin color is, who you marry, if you marry, whatever you choose to wear, whether you're a man or a woman, you can still vote in this country. You can still enjoy civil rights in this country. They would say we have reached the promised land.
He says as a practicing Hindu, he shares a set of Judeo-Christian values with evangelical voters.
I'm not here to convince you that I'm a Christian because I'm not. But what I am here to convince you of is the truth that we still share those same Judeo-Christian values in common. And I live my life accordingly.
I was raised in a two-parent household with the focus on education, with a focus on God, with a nuclear family, as the unit of governance that mattered most to us. That showed us that the love of family opens you, opens your heart up to the love of God. And we raise our two children, my wife and I do, in the same way. We live our lives according to Christian values.
And I'm not running to be somebody's pastor. I'm running to be the president. But I'm running to be a president who recognizes that we are one nation under God, that recognizes the Judeo-Christian values on which this country was founded. Values that I also deeply share.
I can stand up for those values without anybody accusing me of being a Christian nationalist or whatever labels one might use. I think that that actually puts me in a better position to represent the values that undergird this country, including Judeo-Christian values that we share in common better than someone who's shy about it or feels pressure to apologize for it, because it's not popular in our culture to be a Christian.
What I tell people is that actually I think I can make it cool to revive those values, those Christian values, family values in our culture again, because even as a religious Hindu, we grew up subscribing to those same values grounded in what it means to be a member of a family, a father and a household.
He acknowledges that President Biden was lawfully elected, but he is upset about information censored by social media companies ahead of the election.
I think that in the technical sense of that word, [Joe Biden is] obviously the lawfully elected president.
I'm deeply bothered by the Hunter Biden laptop story suppression that really was in the name of suppressing misinformation, actually created misinformation across the news media. I have a lot of issues with the suppression of information by social media companies and internet companies that led up to that election.
But in the technical sense of, you know, do I think that there was large-scale ballot fraud or whatever that changed the election outcome based on how the votes were counted? I have seen no evidence of that.
No federal abortion restrictions — the self-described "pro-life" candidate says it is an issue for the states.
I would not [sign federal abortion restrictions into law]. But I am pro-life.
For years, I was an opponent of Roe v. Wade. I think it was constitutionally wrongly decided. I think Dobbs was correct to overturn it because the federal government has no business here. Murder laws are governed by the states. So if abortion is a form of murder, which is the pro-life position, and I am pro-life, then it would make no sense for that to be the one law that was still governed at the federal level.
But a federal ban violates the constitutional principle that led us to actually overturn Roe v. Wade, which is why I would not sign a federal abortion ban.
Ramaswamy is pushing to amend the Constitution to increase the voting age to 25 – with earlier ballot access in exchange for service and civic engagement
I think we have a loss of civic pride in our country. I think people, young people included, do not value a country that they simply inherit. I think we value a country that we have a stake in building. And I think that asking a young person, asking any citizen to know something about the country before voting, I think is a perfectly reasonable condition.
We already ask immigrants to know this, by the way, so it's not making up some new test — no matter your skin color. If you've been a taxpaying green card holder for 10 years, you still have to pass that test to vote. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask a young American to do the same thing, or else if they don't want to do that, to at least serve for six months in the military or a first responder role or else to have some life experience as an adult, at least by the age of 25.
And the good news is it requires a constitutional amendment which would require broad, widespread national consensus to ever get passed which I think is appropriate. But I'm looking to actually elevate that debate because our revival of civic pride and civic duty isn't going to happen automatically. It's going to happen because we make it so.
Will he support another Republican nominee? Time will tell.
I have to think about it. I want to see the conditions of who's under what commitments, you know, the conditions for the debate stage. So I'm going have to think about that.
He wants to expand the "America First" movement beyond Donald Trump.
I wouldn't call myself a disciple of Donald Trump, no. I would embrace the label of "America First" to point out that America first is bigger than Donald Trump. It does not belong to Donald Trump. It doesn't belong to me. Ronald Reagan used the phrase, others have used it throughout American history, too.
It's about reviving the ideals that the country was founded on and to actually advance those in the forms of policy. And so I think I am taking that far further than Trump did. But I also expect and hope to unite the country in the process if we're doing it based on principled footing rather than vengeance and grievance. And I just truly do believe that we don't have to be a nation in inevitable national decline. And we don't have to be Rome. We don't have to be Carthage.
I think we as a nation are just a little young, actually going through our own version of adolescence, figuring out who we're going to be when we grow up. So that national identity crisis then becomes natural, unsurprising. You go through an identity crisis when you go through adolescence, so too it is for our nation. But when you view it that way, I think it just becomes obvious that I think it's possible our best days can still truly actually be ahead of us, that we might not be in decline.
This conversation was edited by Eric McDaniel and Muthoni Muturi. It was produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell.
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