Vivek’s strange strategy to win over religious voters

Republican presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy gestures during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Republican presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy gestures during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NewsNation on Dec. 6, 2023, at the Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. | Gerald Herbert, Associated Press
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This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here. To submit a question to next week’s Friday Mailbag, email

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

Here’s our latest 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

By their fruits ye shall vote for them

Vivek Ramaswamy is taking a big gamble in his efforts to win over conservative Christian voters. Instead of playing down his Hindu faith, he’s using simultaneously as a defense and as a bludgeon — by accusing another candidate’s conversion to Christianity as a political ploy.

Both sides of Ramaswamy’s strategy were on display at a CNN town hall in Iowa on Wednesday. An attendee asked how he responds to skeptical voters, many of whom think his Hinduism “is not what our Founding Fathers based our country on.”

Ramaswamy offered a measured response, much like he’s done over and over when asked about his faith. He highlighted the values he shares with many evangelical Christians — a belief in God, a recognition of the divinity of each human, a conservative social worldview. He acknowledged he might not see it the same way as some voters: “Would I be the best president to spread Christianity through this country? I would not,” he admitted. “But I also don’t think that’s the job of the U.S. president.”

As the campaign has progressed, Ramaswamy — a Hindu — has become more deft at addressing his faith. He’s the first Hindu to ever run for the Republican presidential nomination, and Iowa voters are increasingly interested in Ramaswamy’s religion. Nearly two-thirds of likely Iowa caucusgoers are evangelical Christian. Less than 1% of Iowans are Hindu. Many of these voters have likely never met a Hindu in their lives, much less voted for one.

But as much as Ramaswamy has used his faith as a surprising place of commonality with many voters, he’s also used it as a form of attack. At the debate last week, he chided Nikki Haley — the daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants — for converting to Christianity as an adult.

“I don’t question her faith, but I question her authenticity,” he said.

Haley, when given a chance to respond to Ramaswamy’s accusations, declined. “It’s not worth my time to respond to him,” she said.

At the town hall Wednesday, Ramaswamy appeared to take another veiled shot at Haley, saying he refuses to play “political Snakes and Ladders” by becoming a “fake convert” to Christianity. The Ramaswamy campaign did not respond to a request for comment (I asked if this was a reference to Haley).

Haley was raised Sikh, and she later converted to her white American husband’s Methodist faith. She and her husband gave their children Punjabi names. Nikki is her middle name.

In recent months, Ramaswamy has referred to her by her birth name, Nimarata Randhawa, and implied she became a Christian for political reasons.

Does Ramaswamy think questioning the faith of another candidate will make his own faith seem more sincere? It’s a strange approach, especially as many Christian voters already seem skeptical of Ramaswamy’s faith.

According to a new Deseret News/HarrisX poll of U.S. voters, less than one-third of Republican voters (31%) think Ramaswamy is a “person of faith”; even fewer (23%) think he is “religious.”

In a separate Deseret News/HarrisX poll from September, one-fourth of evangelical voters say Ramaswamy’s religious affiliation make them less likely to vote for him.

He hired two former Latter-day Saint missionaries to run his campaign in Iowa. Both canvassed for Mitt Romney, when the former presidential candidate struggled to quell Iowa evangelicals’ concerns about his Latter-day Saint faith.

Now, he’s resorted to casting doubt on another candidate’s religious belief, expecting voters to see him as more devout in the process. Voters will decide whether it works.

Weekend reads

Republicans’ best argument against Donald Trump was this: he won’t beat Joe Biden. He’s too old, too chaotic and too criminal to win a general election. Suddenly, that argument seems awfully flimsy, thanks to a series of national polls that show Biden trailing Trump by significant margins. We’re 11 months out from Election Day, but the time for Republicans to find a Trump alternate is now — and these polls aren’t helping their cause. The Most Powerful Anti-Trump Argument in the GOP Has Evaporated (Rich Lowry, Politico)

Presidential candidates like to quote Abraham Lincoln. But do they really understand him? Probably not, according to this essay. Whereas Lincoln called for civic charity, compromise and compassion, today’s politicians all too often fight as if it is a zero-sum, us-versus-them battle. Some interesting insights here: Learning From Lincoln (Matthew Schmitz, Compact Magazine)

Biden is hemorrhaging support from the Arab American community over his loyalty to Israel. As Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza continues, the Biden administration is pushing Benjamin Netanyahu to scale back and present a clear strategy. But that may not be enough to salvage the bridges already burned with many ex-Biden-backing Arab Americans, who view the president’s allegiance to Israel as traitorous: In Michigan, anger over Biden’s Israel-Hamas war stance could cost him votes: “We’re gonna be silent in November 2024” (Ed O’Keefe, CBS News)

Friday mailbag

Today’s question comes from Mike C.:

Survey after survey is out there regarding a Trump/Biden presidential run. Considering the number of Americans opposed to both candidates, where is the survey to look into the scenario of pulling voters from both sides toward the middle?  

Good question, Mike. Here are two polls that may be of interest:

First, a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, out this week, shows that no one is all that excited about a Trump/Biden rematch. A majority of U.S. adults would be “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied if Biden wins the Democratic nomination (56% say so) or if Trump wins the Republican nomination (58% say so).

Second, an October poll from Gallup, that shows 63% of American adults think both major parties do “such a poor job” of representing the American people that “a third major party is needed.”

On paper, there seems to be a huge opening for a third-party or independent candidate. We’ve reported on many of these. We welcomed the No Labels CEO and national director to our office and talked through their strategy. We’ve interviewed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West. But the two major parties hold a monopoly in American politics, and history shows that voters often default to checking the familiar boxes on Election Day, even if early polling shows otherwise.

That won’t stop us from reporting on these other campaigns, of course — we’ve pledged to help our readers be the most informed voters possible.

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.