Who is Vivek Ramaswamy, a rising GOP candidate in the 2024 presidential race?

Wednesday's primary debate could be a coming-out moment for the biotech entrepreneur.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

When he first announced he was running for president earlier this year, most Americans had no idea who Vivek Ramaswamy was.

Yes, he was an exceptionally rich and energetic Harvard graduate, full of optimism about the United States but unafraid to partake in the culture wars, as he showed in his book Woke, Inc.

On the other hand, he was … who, exactly?

"Let me just address the question that is on everybody's mind at home tonight," a grinning Ramaswamy said Wednesday at the first GOP primary debate. "Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage."

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy signs a supporter's hat at the Iowa State Fair.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy signs a supporter's hat at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

At the time Ramaswamy announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the field was dominated by Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor then widely seen as Trump’s successor. The other Republicans who had joined or were about to join the primary field were nothing more than a sideshow, many pundits and consultants said.

Since then, however, Ramaswamy has emerged as an intriguing choice for conservatives, as Trump faces the prospect of prison, stemming from the multiple state and federal cases now proceeding against him. DeSantis, meanwhile, has run what critics say is a lackluster campaign, plagued by mistakes of his own making.

Wednesday's primary debate could be a coming-out moment for Ramaswamy, but it could also confirm fears that he is nothing more than a flash in the political pan.

An American upbringing

Ramaswamy speaks at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Ramaswamy speaks at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Aug. 17. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

Ramaswamy is the son of Indian immigrants who raised him in a comfortably middle-class household in Cincinnati. He was raised in the Hindu faith of his ancestors, but went to a Catholic high school.

Ramaswamy studied at Harvard, then Yale Law. He became wealthy through a number of investments in the biotechnology sector. He is worth at least $630 million, according to Forbes.

In 2021 he published Woke, Inc., which one review criticized as a “wounded right-wing yelp against companies that make moral as well as commercial decisions.” The book became a bestseller.

DeSantis without the baggage?

Last week, a pro-DeSantis political action group — which is, in an unusual step, mostly running his campaign — was embarrassed by the publication of a memo it had written about how DeSantis should behave during the first GOP primary debate, which takes place on Wednesday.

For months, the DeSantis camp had been insisting that the race was a “two-man contest” between him and Trump. But the memo from his political group, Never Back Down — which is forbidden by law from coordinating with the campaign — shows that, behind the thin veneer of bravado, the DeSantis campaign is terrified, as other candidates gain and he continues to fall, in both national polls and those in early-voting states.

Among the advice from Never Back Down: “Take a sledge-hammer to Vivek Ramaswamy: 'Fake Vivek' or 'Vivek the Fake,’" the memo says. It also suggests that DeSantis should point out that Ramaswamy’s family belonged to India’s elite Brahmin class.

Ramaswamy raps at the Iowa State Fair.
Ramaswamy raps at the Iowa State Fair. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

DeSantis has long tried to persuade voters that he is the most electable Trump-like alternative to Trump. But then Ramaswamy emerged. He was a businessman, like Trump, and eagerly defended the former president while DeSantis waffled as indictments against Trump mounted.

And whereas DeSantis has a tendency to snap at reporters, engage awkwardly with the public and deliver a stump speech heavy with obscure terminology, Ramaswamy seems to connect easily with voters. And once he does, he gives them the comforting sense that his story is proof of American greatness.

“He gives you a sense of hope, not all doom and gloom,” one prospective voter in Iowa told the Associated Press. Earlier this month at the Iowa State Fair, Ramaswamy — who while at Harvard rapped about his libertarian beliefs under the stage name Da Vek — performed Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while on stage with the state’s governor, Kim Reynolds. Predictably enough, the moment went viral.

“I think that he’s probably a bigger threat to DeSantis, because right now DeSantis is positioning himself as the alternative to Trump, but he’s stalled out,” said Sean Spicer, who was the first White House spokesman in the Trump administration.

What does he actually believe?

Ramaswamy signs a pamphlet at the Iowa State Fair.
Signing a pamphlet at the Iowa State Fair. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Ramaswamy “seems to be the most policy-oriented one” in the GOP primary, Republican pollster Mark Penn said in a Fox News appearance. For all his love of rap music and eagerness to court the national media — which some believe is at least partly responsible for his success — the first-time candidate has put out a slate of highly conservative positions.

Ramaswamy is fervently against the government doing anything to stop climate change. He has called for the U.S. military to be deployed to the border with Mexico in order to halt the flow of migrants. He opposes more aid to Ukraine and wants a federal ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

A lot of his ideas self-consciously recall the proposals that made Trump popular in the first place. Ramaswamy, who calls his agenda "America First 2.0," says he will take “the America First agenda even further than Donald Trump did.”

Does he have a chance?

Speaking at the Iowa State Fair.
Speaking at the Iowa State Fair. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Ramaswamy has been rising in the polls for months and is now either leading DeSantis in some national and state polls or trailing him by a diminishing margin.

Then, of course, there is Trump, who seems to like Ramaswamy as much as he despises DeSantis — though that may be only because he doesn’t see Ramaswamy as a threat.

“I expect to take [Trump] as an adviser” in a Ramaswamy administration, the insurgent candidate recently said — but it is more likely he will find himself with a plum position in a second Trump administration, should that come to pass.

Watch on Yahoo News: Vivek Ramaswamy surges in popularity ahead of first GOP debate, Fox News poll indicates, via Fox News