Who is GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy?

Vivek Ramaswamy in Philadelphia
Vivek Ramaswamy in Philadelphia Lisa Lake/Getty Images

There is a new rising star among Republican presidential candidates. Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old entrepreneur making his first foray into politics, had a "breakout" performance at the first GOP primary presidential debate, Insider reported. Initially unknown when he announced his candidacy in February 2023, Ramaswamy has quickly gathered momentum among voters, Politico added, drawing even in some polls with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was expected to be the main challenger to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

Who is Vivek Ramaswamy?

He is the son of immigrants from South India. Ramaswamy grew up in the Cincinnati area, then graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School, per The New Yorker. He then worked for a hedge fund before founding a biotech company, Roivant Sciences. The company made "hundreds of millions of dollars," but its signature effort — by a subsidiary called Axovant, to bring an Alzheimer's drug to market — failed. (The company later announced that Ramaswamy has stepped down from its board of directors.) Ramaswamy called it "the single greatest failure of my career" in a 2017 interview with Forbes. But he stayed in business, launching a Peter Thiel-backed financial firm that invests in businesses that emphatically disregard so-called "environmental, social and governance" (ESG) standards that have become the bane of conservatives. In recent years, he has increasingly turned to conservative punditry, writing op-eds for The Wall Street Journal and making multiple appearances on Fox News.

Is he really a leader of the 'anti-woke' movement?

"His focus on wokeness supersedes all else," The New Republic noted. In 2021 he authored a book, "Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America's Social Justice Scam," which attacked big corporations for ESG investing and diversity initiatives at the expense of delivering profit to their shareholders. One of his central theories is that progressive anti-racist and climate-friendly "wokeness" is literally and legally a religion. "If wokeness is really a religion, then forcing employees to actually bow to this new religion is a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," he told Fox News in 2021. In conversation with CBN News, he asserted that this new "secular religion" is taking the place of traditional values like patriotism, faith, and hard work. Such themes will be central to his campaign: Ramaswamy says as president he'll repeal federal affirmative action policies and push America to "abandon climate religion," he told Fox News.

What do his critics say?

That he's a hypocrite. For example, as flagged by The New Republic, Ramaswamy has made China a central talking point in his writing and Fox News appearances — even though Roivant did business in China under Ramaswamy's leadership. (The company says Roivant is "not currently active in China.") While he has called for the U.S. to "decouple" from China and for a ban on American companies doing business there, "the industry where he made his name and tens of millions of dollars … remains deeply interwoven with the country." Other critics, like The Guardian's Margaret Sullivan, have called him a demagogue, and even relatively friendly outlets, like The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, called him "glib and reckless." His proposed policies — like defunding the FBI and raising the voting age to 25, as well as his disdain for the "climate change agenda" — have also drawn fire, as noted by The Washington Post.

What are Republicans saying?

After Ramaswamy announced his candidacy, Fox News suggested he could be "the conservative Andrew Yang" — another entrepreneurial child of immigrants who made a splash in the Democratic primaries in 2020. Americans for Prosperity's Greg Moore told the channel that "first-generation Americans tend to be some of the optimistic people you will find, and Vivek definitely has that space." One columnist, Indiana Business Journal's Curt Smith, suggested Ramaswamy has a better shot at the 2024 U.S. Senate race in Ohio, but added that he is "a future force for conservative values and views." But another "key part of Ramaswamy's pitch is the simplest: he is young," wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells at The New Yorker. "In contrast to Trump's boomer inferno — either we're going back to a better time or we're going down in flames — Ramaswamy suggests a conservative future. "

What are his odds of actually winning the GOP nomination?

"Ramaswamy would be a long-shot candidate in what is likely to be a crowded Republican primary," National Review pointed out after he announced his candidacy. Since then the odds have gotten shorter. Trump, of course, still leads the GOP field by a considerable margin, but the growing attention has fueled speculation that Ramaswamy could end up as Trump's vice presidential candidate in 2024, Politico reported. "He looked like he enjoyed himself," said one GOP strategist after the first Republican debate. "And he gave as good as he got." Ramaswamy has demurred, saying that between Trump and himself, "neither one of us do well in a No. 2 position." Whatever happens in 2024, though, Ramaswamy is still just 38 — he may have a few decades to make an impact.

Updated Sept. 6, 2023: This article has been updated throughout. 

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