Vivek Ramaswamy bristles at being lumped with other Republicans, namely Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
To differentiate himself in a crowded field, he’s trying to claim a new label.
“I think of myself as more of the unapologetic nationalist in this race,” Ramaswamy said during his opening remarks for an on-the-record conversation with more than a dozen editors and reporters at POLITICO’s Rosslyn, Va., headquarters late Monday morning.
“Call me a non-white nationalist, if you want.”
Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old Indian American, tried to walk back the non-white descriptor a touch by saying it was “tongue in cheek” — but said it is an optimistic view.
“Why do I call myself an American nationalist? I am proud of that. I will not apologize for it. And I want to revive that.”
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He said the nation is at a “1776 moment” in which the United States must collectively decide if it will “embrace the radicalism of the ideals that actually unite us” or allow that window to close. He hinted that the nation is much closer to peril without a proven leader in place to help navigate the country through this dark period.
He praised America’s ideals of rule of law and self-governance. But when reminded the country was also built on the practice of slavery, he said, “Is America hypocritical? Yes.”
Ramaswamy, dressed in a well-tailored navy suit and a crisp white button-down, asked why China or Iran or Pakistan are never called to task for being hypocritical nations.
“I will be … among the first to admit our hypocrisy,” he said. “I think it’s our best evidence of the fact that we are a nation founded on ideals. And most nations are founded on ethnicity, monarch, language, religion — not America.”
When asked about embracing such a word when the Republican Party is already seen by many as embracing white nationalism, he admitted this posture may initially alienate some voters.
As a candidate he is unfazed.
“Do I have a consciousness that in the short run, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable? Absolutely.”
He said that Americans must learn to recalibrate and get “comfortable with that discomfort, so we can be stronger on the other side of it.”
Ramaswamy, whose book titles include “Woke Inc.,” and “Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence,” is part of a growing GOP field that is the most diverse in modern history.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, like Ramaswamy, is South Asian. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and syndicated conservative talk show host Larry Elder are Black.
All these candidates of color are attempting to win over a largely white Republican primary electorate.
None of the GOP candidates of color are polling above 5 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Ramaswamy is hovering at 2.6 percent.
But all of the GOP’s candidates of color have leaned into railing against “woke” ideologies and policies. The term has become a catch-all phrase to describe culture war battles over diversity, equity and inclusion.
Trump during a campaign stop in Iowa last week said he doesn’t like the term “woke”, adding: “It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.”
Ramswamy took credit for the “intellectual work” of the anti-woke strain in the party, but said, “It’s never a mantle I’ve particularly embraced but been described as a candidate in the potential emerging anti-woke lane — that’s too small.”
Perhaps more than any other candidate of late, Ramaswamy has stepped up his attacks against DeSantis in recent weeks, telling POLITICO staff he doesn’t have a “personal beef” with the Florida governor, but taking unprompted swipes at him. Ramaswamy says DeSantis borrowed pandemic policies first enacted by Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), but added he did “a good job of implementing that in Florida.”
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He largely stayed away from criticizing Trump, though he alluded to the former president as being passé. Trump, Ramaswamy said, leans too much into a “retrospective grievance” that played once well with the electorate, but no longer does today.
Ramaswamy predicts that it will take a landslide election, like Ronald Regan’s victory in 1984, to unite the country. He added that embracing American nationalist identity will be his campaign’s north star.
“I think we need to move and graduate beyond where I feel like we’ve been mired for the last 10 to 20 years celebrating and sometimes fighting and obsessing either way over our skin-deep diversity and differences,” he said.
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