Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is casting himself as the true outsider in the Republican presidential field as he seeks to distinguish himself from a number of higher-profile names in his long-shot bid for the White House.
Recent national surveys have shown Ramaswamy, who’s built a national brand for himself as an “anti-woke” crusader, polling in the single digits, while former President Trump widely leads the 2024 Republican field.
But the 37-year-old believes his unconventional bona fides will help him carve out his own lane in the 2024 cycle, much Trump’s did in 2016.
“In many ways, you get to be an outsider once. I’m the outsider in this race,” Ramaswamy told The Hill in a wide-ranging interview. “I think I’m closer to Trump in 2015 than Trump today is to Trump in 2015.”
Ramaswamy launched his presidential campaign in February after building in his reputation as the author of “Woke, Inc.” and the founder of biotech firm Roivant Sciences.
Though he’s the son of Indian immigrants, his campaign has largely eschewed identity politics, instead making cultural issues a focal point by criticizing environmental, social and corporate governance policies, affirmative action and gender-affirming care for minors.
Ramaswamy believes his unconventional candidacy, which he describes as being built on “speaking truth,” will resonate with voters despite his generally low name recognition.
“I think the fact of being unconstrained and speaking truth and really being willing to pay the prices of speaking truth, I think is part of what ties into the grassroots appeal,” he said.
David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser, said that’s factually true — Ramaswamy is the only major Republican candidate in this race who’s a political outsider at this point. But he said Ramaswamy is not necessarily comparable to Trump in 2016.
“I mean, Donald Trump is one of one,” Urban said. “So it’s very difficult to say he’s just gonna rip that out and run that playbook.”
Urban also said that it would be difficult for Ramaswamy to recapture the uniqueness of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“Doing it again doesn’t mean you’re the new guy. [It] just means you’re copying the old guy,” he explained.
Still, while he may be polling in the single digits, Ramaswamy has surprised some political observers with his robust media and campaign strategy.
Some polls still indicate he’s trailing the field, but others have suggested those tactics are working. A CBS News/YouGov survey released earlier this month showed Ramaswamy tied for third place — along with former Vice President Mike Pence — at 5 percent among likely Republican primary voters. Trump placed first with 58 percent, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis placed second at 22 percent.
A Morning Consult survey released this week showed Ramaswamy tied for fourth with former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 4 percent. Trump received 58 percent, DeSantis received 20 percent and Pence received 6 percent.
This week, Ramaswamy rolled out 47 endorsements in New Hampshire, including from eight current lawmakers, former Senate candidate Kevin Smith and Salem GOP chair Steve Goddu — an indicator that he’s garnering some grassroots support.
“I hate to admit this, but we’re far ahead of where we expected to be right now,” Ramaswamy said. “We were executing against a strategy to put us in third place — a clear third place by December, ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Then to do well in Iowa, and then to really take a shot at top two, if not one in New Hampshire.”
But his polling numbers are too low to suggest he’s truly competitive at this stage in the primary. And as other GOP contenders such as DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) officially launch their White House campaigns, those polling numbers will likely fluctuate as the field fully forms.
Meanwhile, the presidential primary debates haven’t yet happened, either, and it’s not clear if or when several other Republicans including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie might jump in.
But some early primary state Republicans are starting to take notice of Ramaswamy.
“He was the only candidate who appeared in-person at the state [GOP] convention last weekend, which I thought said a lot about just how committed he was to meeting face-to-face with voters and talking to them about the issues that both he and they care about,” said Rob Godfrey, a South Carolina-based GOP strategist who formerly worked for Haley.
“I think that makes an impression on people, when you’re the only person that they see in-person at a convention, at an event that’s important to them like that, and so it builds goodwill.”
Thomas Rath, a longtime GOP strategist and former New Hampshire attorney general, said that the big unknown in his state is whether Sununu might jump into the field. Sununu would fare well among non-Trump-voting Republicans and independents in the state. But Rath said the endorsement Ramaswamy notched from Smith was a “good get.”
Perhaps the thing that differentiates Ramaswamy, 37, the most is the fact that he’s the first millennial running for the GOP presidential nomination.
Former Iowa state GOP Rep. Joe Mitchell, also the founder of the Republican-focused Run GenZ, said he’s been impressed with just how rapidly Ramaswamy has become a known figure within the GOP primary. Mitchell, who’s 26, hasn’t made up his mind yet about who he’s voting for, but he said that age shouldn’t be a deterrent for someone like Ramaswamy.
“Clearly Vivek has done more than a lot of people honestly in this race, regarding private sector achievements, in growing pharmaceutical biotech companies. So I would put his information, knowledge, specifically real-world type of antics, in front of most people in this race,” Mitchell said.
But Ramaswamy’s campaign proposal to raise the minimum voting age to 25 years — unless adults aged 18-24 either do a stint of national service, such as serving in the military, or through a civics exam — isn’t landing as well with younger Republicans.
“I don’t think that was the greatest proposal to put out there, specifically if he was trying to get younger voters to his camp,” Mitchell said.
But Ramaswamy says that’s ok — and he’s not interested in changing his proposal even with the pushback he’s received.
“No is the answer, actually,” he said.
“We have a clean slate with the next generation to make this a norm in American public life of actually having a citizenry that’s educated about this country. That to know if you’re voting for president that you know what branch of government the president leads, you know a thing or two about the Constitution,” Ramaswamy added. “I don’t think [that’s] too much to ask. And if not that, then at least that you serve the country.”