At the first Republican presidential debates last night, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy claimed that climate change is a “hoax.”
“Climatism,” he’s often said, is one of America’s new secular, “cult-like” religions replacing the country’s Judeo-Christian foundation.
But just months ago, Ramaswamy told CBS News that climate change is “real” and acknowledged a rise in global surface temperatures “in part due to human activity.”
Ramaswamy has flip-flopped on a range of other issues. It’s an inconsistency that not only makes him just as much a politician as his rivals, but also reflects a broader pattern of shamelessly indulging the new Know-Nothings of the Republican Party.
Ramaswamy and the Paranoid Style
The Paranoid Style has consumed the Republican Party’s base. The right’s conspiracy theories have evolved from depictions of Barack Obama as a Communist-Islamist Manchurian candidate. It’s now taken on a full anti-establishment turn with claims that the January 6th insurrection was an FBI false flag operation.
A wealthy polemicist, Ramaswamy has little to lose by simply telling the Republican Party base what it wants to hear.
The most egregious example of Ramaswamy’s indulgence of far-right denialism is on the 9/11 attacks. When asked by The Blaze earlier this month whether the attacks of September 11 were an “inside job,” Ramaswamy could have easily said the clear and obvious truth that it wasn’t. Instead, he replied, “I don’t think the government has told us the truth,” and then pivoted to generic commentary on skepticism of what governments say.
First, Ramaswamy clarified that he was referring to a long-classified FBI report on official Saudi connections to the 9/11 hijackers. Then, in a recently published interview with The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson conducted in July, Ramaswamy veered even closer to 9/11 trutherism, insinuating the attacks were either an inside job or that the U.S. government at least had forewarning of them.
He said: “I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers. Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right? I have no reason to think it was anything other than zero.”
On a host of other issues, Ramaswamy has adopted a persona on the campaign trail at odds with his statements and actions before his presidential run.
Ramaswamy — a former pharmaceutical industry executive — has questioned the safety of COVID vaccines. But his physician wife told The Atlantic that the entire family is vaccinated. He also paid a Wikipedia editor to remove references in his bio to his relationship with Douglas Melton, who helped develop the mRNA vaccine.
Before his presidential run, Ramaswamy also described the January 6th insurrection as a “disgrace” perpetuated by an “angry mob of rioters.” Now he suggests there were “government agents” involved.
Vivek the ‘Music Man’
Ramaswamy’s malleability has led to questions over his authenticity. A DeSantis Super Pac sees it as a potential vulnerability, recommending in a pre-debate memo to “take a sledgehammer” to Ramaswamy and depict him as “Fake Vivek” or “Vivek the Fake.”
Ramaswamy acknowledges that he’s in many ways an anomaly. In his book, “Woke, Inc.,” Ramaswamy depicts himself as a “traitor” to his class — a “truth-teller” on climate, ESG, transgender issues, and affirmative action, which he hyperbolically calls a “cancer on our national soul.”
What’s clear is the Ohio native is a skilled debater who’ll do what it takes to convince or win the target audience.
Kathleen Sebelius, a former advisor to Ramaswamy’s companies and Obama administration health secretary, has called him “sort of a Music Man.”
The New Yorker provides a vivid account of how Ramaswamy feels the pulse of his audience and indulges anti-Zelensky, pro-lab leak, and other conspiratorial sentiment:
“[Ramaswamy] asked for audience members’ names and agreed with what they said, even when it pulled him nearer to conspiracy; in response, the crowd rose and applauded, and moved nearer to him, too.”
What Does Vivek Ramaswamy Believe?
Given his record of flip-flops, what can we say for sure about Vivek Ramaswamy?
I think it’s clear he’s a big believer in America and capitalism.
He also appears to have been a libertarian for some time. Ramaswamy has expressed affinity for Rand and Ron Paul. And his unchoreographed comments on cutting aid to Israel reflect a Paulian libertarian foreign policy.
Two, Ramaswamy takes his religion seriously. His childhood was marked by summer trips to India, including regular pilgrimages to holy Hindu sites. And unlike many other Indian-origin politicians on the right, he’s remained a Hindu and has openly discussed it on the trail.
(It should be noted that paid edits to Ramaswamy’s Wikipedia entry indicate an initial ambivalence in disclosing his belief in Hinduism right before declaring his presidential run. And while Ramaswamy has publicly expressed his Hindu beliefs in ways that make it seem like just another Abrahamic religion, that may simply just be the way that he — as someone who attended Catholic school in the Midwest — came to understand his own tradition.)
As former Vice President Mike Pence’s opening salvo against Ramaswamy made clear, scrutiny of the fast-talking Ohioan will increase. But what he actually believes may be a moot issue.
We’re in an era in which vibes matter more than ideas. And Ramaswamy is resonating with a new generation of extremely online conservatives: the Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk types. Ramaswamy was the most popular candidate in a panel of Republican voters in Iowa convened by CNN after the debate last night, especially among the younger participants.
While the race for the Republican nomination is Donald Trump’s to lose, Ramaswamy’s rise in the polls is clearly more than just a temporary fluke. He probably won’t win the race, but he could be the face of the conservative movement’s multiracial, anti-establishment future.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine. He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.