Ramaswamy faces backlash over debate performance

Ramaswamy faces backlash over debate performance
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Vivek Ramaswamy emerged from the fourth GOP debate in Alabama facing backlash from Republicans over his aggressive performance.

The 38-year-old GOP millennial called former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley “fascist” and compared her campaign launch video to “a woke Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light ad,” while claiming former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) “version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York.”

His attacks were met with blowback from his GOP competitors, while some strategists afterward argued the tactics demonstrated he was an unserious presidential candidate.

“Most of the people do not like the below-the-belt punches,” Republican strategist Scott Jennings said. “You know, too-cute-by-a-half rhetorical. You know, sneak attacks — whatever you want to call it. They just think it’s out of bounds, especially coming from him.”

Jennings said that while Ramaswamy may have been trying to emulate former President Trump, whom Ramaswamy has often praised, it wasn’t selling.

“Trump’s brand and image were so strong on the front end, that it gave him the latitude and credibility to engage with his opponents in some of the ways Vivek is — it’s just he doesn’t bring that to the race,” Jennings said, arguing that Ramaswamy doesn’t have Trump’s “personal warmth and humor.”

Ramaswamy’s campaign refuted that characterization, with senior adviser Tricia McLaughlin arguing that his critics are “just pissed because he had a great debate performance, and he was not their chosen candidate.”

“I think that if people actually saw Vivek on the campaign trail, which we put out tons of footage, it shows Vivek’s warm,” she said, adding later, “Vivek is gonna speak his convictions no matter what, and some people are gonna like it, and some people are gonna hate it.”

Ramaswamy came out swinging during the fourth debate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was hosted by The Hill’s sister organization NewsNation. He targeted several contenders, particularly Haley and Christie, even at one point holding up a piece of paper reading “Nikki Haley = Corrupt.”

“So reject this myth that they’ve been selling you, that somebody had a cup-of-coffee stint at the U.N., and then makes eight million bucks after, has real foreign policy experience,” Ramaswamy said of Haley Wednesday night. “It takes an outsider to see this through.”

Ramaswamy’s pugnacious debate performances have rankled many over the past few months, and that animosity came to a boil Wednesday night. In one of the debate’s most memorable moments, Christie took Ramaswamy to task for his insults lobbed against Haley.

“This is the fourth debate — the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America,” the former New Jersey governor told Ramaswamy in front of a live audience.

Haley for her part sought to brush off his insults, at one point saying, when asked to reply to Ramaswamy, “No, it’s not worth my time to respond to him.”

Ramaswamy’s debate performance also generated scrutiny after he floated several debunked claims, including the idea that the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack was “an inside job” and that the “2020 election was indeed stolen by Big Tech.”

Those comments in particular drew fierce criticism, including from high-profile figures in the media.

“If what he means by ‘inside job’ is it was a sitting president of the United States who launched a coup against the government, that there were members of the House of Representatives who helped him … that absolutely is true,” former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) told “CBS Mornings” on Thursday, describing some of his remarks as “Area 51 conspiracy theory garbage.”

CNN analyst Van Jones said Wednesday night that Ramaswamy’s remarks had left him “shaking.”

“That guy is dangerous,” Jones said. “That’s dangerous.”

After the debate, Ramaswamy was pressed further by CNN reporter Dana Bash over some of his controversial views. During the exchange, he doubled down, arguing that it was important to have a discussion about the events of Jan. 6, among other topics. A fact-check by the network noted there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest the Capitol attack was an inside job and that the idea has been repeatedly rejected by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Ramaswamy certainly wasn’t the only candidate to go negative during the debate, but his performance might have hurt him the most. A Washington Post/Ipsos Poll released Thursday found that Ramaswamy’s performance fared the worst among Republican debate watchers.

The fourth debate came as the clock ticks down for non-Trump Republicans to shore up support. That includes Ramaswamy, who trails Trump, DeSantis and Haley in the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“I think he is at risk of losing relevance in this race and is doing everything he can to make the highlight reels,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is somebody who presented himself as a serious person at the beginning of the campaign. And, you know, as we get closer to the caucuses … he’s not running a serious campaign at all,” he added.

At the same time, Ramaswamy’s defense of Trump, including during the first debate, has won him praise from the former president.

“He’s a smart guy. He’s a young guy. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s a very, very, very intelligent person,” Trump told Glenn Beck on Blaze TV in August. “He’s got good energy, and he could be in some form of something. I tell ya, I think he’d be very good. I think he’s really distinguished himself.”

But even some of Trump’s supporters were less than impressed with Ramaswamy’s performance.

“He seemed to have put even more pressure on himself to cut people off, to demonstrate that he’s smarter than everybody, and it really came off not only flat, but it came off as really pedantic, smug and unnecessarily combative … with the other three on stage,” said John Ullyot, a Trump 2016 senior adviser, who has not yet joined the campaign but supports Trump in 2024.

And some members of the party, like Iowa-based Republican strategist Jimmy Centers, note that Ramaswamy has outperformed expectations.

“I thought he was articulate and thoughtful and had some interesting ideas. But frankly, I didn’t think that he would ever rise to the position where he was in the middle of the debate stage back in September and October, right, not on the fringes,” Centers said of first meeting Ramaswamy in January.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans don’t see him as a longshot.

“I have no doubt that he was running — is running because he believes he could be the nominee for the Republican Party for president. You know, what his goal is now, as I’m sure he realizes, that is becoming a longshot, if not outright impossible … I don’t know,” he said.

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