Still a half year away from the first official primary/caucus votes of 2024, the Republican
presidential race seems to have reached a bit of a holding pattern. Former president Donald Trump marches on in his quest for a third consecutive party nomination and the rest, for lack of a better way to put it, are searching for ways to gain a foothold on relevancy.
Despite the absence of any real “action” – apart from the Biden Justice Department continuing to zero in on Trump – one conservative candidate in particular has stood out from the others. In an article titled “Vivek Ramaswamy vows to take Trump’s agenda to the next level”, Seth McLaughlin wrote at The Washington Times:
“Mr. Ramaswamy said he can make more headway with the ‘America First’ agenda than Mr. Trump because the former president makes roughly a third of the country ‘psychiatrically ill when he speaks.’
“‘The things that they otherwise would have agreed with, they vehemently disagree with because he said it,’ Mr. Ramaswamy said. ‘We have a sort of political dysphoria that emerges where you have Republicans that start identifying as Democrats because they lose any mooring of their own psyche when Trump is in office, and I can’t explain that to you. ‘But for whatever reason, at least so far, I have not had that effect on people,’ he said.
“Mr. Ramaswamy said Mr. Trump had the necessary executive experience as a businessman but lacked the constitutional expertise needed to understand the entire scope of his powers as president. As a result, he said, Mr. Trump proved to be more of a reformer than a revolutionary. ‘Do you believe in reform, or do you believe in revolution?’ Mr. Ramaswamy said. ‘I’m the candidate, I think the sole candidate, who is actually unapologetically on the side of revolution. I think that is the only way forward.’”
No doubt, a lot of Ramaswamy’s ideas are certainly revolutionary, such as requiring high school students to pass the same civics examination that immigrants do to earn citizenship. Here’s guessing the nation’s high schoolers would fail en masse – which means they’d actually have to learn something about American history to make the grade.
Vivek is impressive and attracts attention wherever he goes. It could easily be said Ramaswamy is by far the brightest challenger star thus far in the 2024 GOP race. But there’s a long way to go, Trump is a former president and has the name recognition and solid foundation of backers that can crush everyone else no matter how smart, ambitious… or capable.
The real question is whether Ramaswamy’s slow rise in the 2024 Republican primary polls represents a real “threat” to the dominance of Donald Trump and, to a much lesser extent, Ron DeSantis. I think possibly; but I also surmise Vivek’s ascendance currently has all the hallmarks of being a fairly typical – and possibly temporary -- flirtation that party voters from both sides go through every nominating cycle.
I suggest what we’re seeing now with Ramaswamy is a combination of the late Herman “Pizza Man” Cain’s (in 2012) and Ted Cruz’s (in 2016) rallies to near the top of their respective races. There are also shades of Ben Carson from 2016, so bear with me.
Longtime politics watchers will remember how businessman Cain burst onto the scene in the late summer and fall of 2011. Possessing a serious ability to capture and hold the attention of an audience, Cain made the rounds touting his “9-9-9” tax plan that would simplify tax filings, collections, lower rates, inspire economic growth and bring the American dream to people who were searching for outsider leadership from someone who’d risen from “ordinary” circumstances to achieve success in this nation. Only in America, right?
Cain had credentials to back-up his campaign platform, too. He’d emerged from a humble family background (he described it as, “poor but happy”) to climb the corporate ladder, served in various government capacities (such as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Omaha Branch from 1989 to 1991) and was generally regarded as a good party man with an interesting life history and one of those who could talk his way into getting people to believe him.
Besides, Cain was competing that year with a notoriously weak presidential field with Mitt Romney as the frontrunner and no clear conservative alternative in sight. Many conservatives, myself included, took a good long look at Cain as a refreshing new face in Republican politics who spoke like a preacher whose religious training was in economic techno jargon.
Cain’s candidacy fizzled out because of accusations of sexual harassment. The establishment media allowed Herman to dawdle long enough until he appeared as though he were a definite challenge to the swamp status quo, then “they” sprung the trap on him. For those wondering, Cain lingered in GOP politics and eventually became a Trump backer until succumbing to COVID just three years ago (July 30, 2020).
So, Cain was a brainy, charismatic character, perhaps not to the degree that Ramaswamy has become, but definitely in the same league.
Ted Cruz and Ben Carson also matched the same “type” of outsider politician in American politics. Cruz was first elected to the senate in 2012 having appeared pretty much out of nowhere to run for federal office as a former Texas solicitor general. For those of us who first noticed Cruz, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to memorize long speeches and deliver them in impressive language that was, like Cain, forceful and mesmerizing.
Ben Carson, on the other hand, was a legendary pediatric neurosurgeon who spoke so softly and calmly that his manner of speaking was caricatured by the media and mimicked on late night TV as though Carson was so humdrum that he couldn’t raise his voice, even if there was a fire. Carson drew interest not only because of his medical background, but also due to his heartfelt social conservative views and unflinching willingness to speak truth to power.
Carson, similar to Herman Cain, saw his moment in the primary sun emerge in the fall (of 2015), just as voters were busy trying out different candidates – including Donald Trump – from which they would select from for their precious primary vote. Unfortunately for Ben, the candidate was depicted by the media as too inexperienced in foreign affairs, and combined with a number of unflattering news reports related to alleged youthful violence brought Carson back down to the pack.
Meanwhile, the brainy Cruz survived most of the media’s pre-primary smear job and appeared to peak at just the right time, winning in Iowa and becoming widely recognized as the main competition to Donald Trump for the ultimate prize. Cruz’s debate performances were always top notch and there wasn’t another candidate who could match his intellectual heft along with his complete command of the issues.
Yet still the Republican electorate chose Donald Trump. Also recall that the campaign turned nasty in the late spring of 2016, to the point where the candidates barely spoke to each other any longer. Supporters of both felt they were right. Trump won in the end and Cruz went to the party convention in Cleveland and made an idiot of himself, refusing to endorse Trump outright at a time when most conservatives had chosen to rally ‘round the mission to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Cruz was smart as heck, but didn’t always make brilliant political moves. Ted did bring it together in the fall of 2016, finally endorsing Trump and helping with the effort to beat the awful Democrats. The rest is history.
Does this recent narrative provide lessons for Ramaswamy’s fate? Thirty-something Ohioan Vivek has thus far taken a similar path as the aforementioned hopefuls (except for Cruz already being in the senate), having thrown down a marker for this year’s race as the super-brain who has so many ideas and plans that he sometimes looks as though his mouth can’t articulate them fast enough.
One can’t help but be impressed by Ramaswamy; he’s gone a heck of a long way from a faceless nobody with an odd-sounding name to legitimate contender with standing in a relatively short amount of time, powered by his abilities, lofty ideals and energy alone. Vivek’s a pure outsider without a whiff of establishment backing who draws people to him by force of personality and weight of ideas. A “dual threat” type of candidate, the question now becomes whether he’ll have staying power once Republican voters get a long enough glimpse at him – or if the ugly media will dig up something in Ramaswamy’s background that causes skittish voters to suspect him.
For now, Vivek looks squeaky clean, but never underestimate the sleaze-seeking journos’ ability to turn it around on someone, especially if that person looks as though they’re getting close to being a real promising leader like Ramaswamy. It’s happened before. Will it happen again?
In a “normal” open primary year, Vivek Ramaswamy very well could be that special type of outsider candidate who vaults from obscurity to go head-to-head with the leaders. It remains to be seen whether this can or will take place in 2024, but the presence of a former president in the current race would suggest otherwise.
There’s still time for Ramaswamy to make us believers. He’s got all the confidence in the world. Can he do it?
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