Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential campaign is seeking to capitalize on his fiery GOP debate performance that found the 38-year-old millennial at the center of attention for much of Wednesday night.
The first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee at times turned into a split-screen between Ramaswamy and several GOP contenders taking jabs at the Ohio biotech entrepreneur over his lack of political or foreign policy experience.
In the process, the upstart politician got plenty of airtime and attention, and he demonstrated his GOP primary rivals see him as a threat.
His campaign said it will now look to build on the attention as Ramaswamy crisscrosses his way through the early presidential states.
“He dominated,” said Ramaswamy senior adviser Tricia McLaughlin. “I mean I think the entire GOP establishment was against Vivek, and that just shows what a threat he is.”
She said Ramaswamy would make remarks at the RNC summer convention before heading back to Iowa and New Hampshire.
“He’s already done 190 events — it might even be north of that at this point. He’s the candidate who’s getting out there and meeting voters, and that matters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire,” McLaughlin said.
She noted that the campaign has not been focused on TV advertising, though “we’ll start playing that game here soon enough.”
The first GOP debate was seen as the first real opportunity for Republican presidential candidates to introduce themselves to primary voters.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has largely stood in second place in national and local polls and was an early favorite to come under attacks.
Instead, it was Ramaswamy — who a few months ago was almost entirely anonymous to much of the public — who fielded much of the attacks from more experienced politicians, including former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Ramaswamy smiled throughout many of the attacks, appearing as if he was enjoying the jabs from opponents.
“He wants to hand Ukraine to Russia, he wants to let China eat Taiwan, he wants to go and stop funding Israel,” Haley said at one point in the debate. “You don’t do that to friends. What you do instead is you have the backs of your friends.”
Ramaswamy shot back at one point: “I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed [Martin] and Raytheon.”
“You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows,” Haley retorted.
Ramaswamy’s performance earned mixed reviews from pundits, some of whom found him glib or obnoxious. But most agreed he had won the lion’s share of attention on the night.
A poll released by The Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos showed 29 percent of probable GOP primary or caucusgoers who tuned into the debate felt DeSantis performed best, with 26 percent saying the same about Ramaswamy.
Some Republican strategists said the criticism from the likes of Christie, Pence and Haley solidified Ramaswamy as a credible, serious candidate.
“It’s an absolute win. It is a clear acknowledgment that he has arrived, so to speak, within this primary race,” said Iowa GOP strategist Jimmy Centers.
“No one attacks those who are irrelevant,” Centers said, later adding, “If I’m on the Ramaswamy team, I would be very pleased that others are acknowledging the credibility of his candidacy.”
Former President Trump notably offered praise of a candidate sometimes described as a millennial Trump. The former president posted a video of Ramaswamy during the debate in which he said, “President Trump, I believe, was the best president of the 21st century.”
“This answer gave Vivek Ramaswamy a big WIN in the debate because of a thing called TRUTH. Thank you Vivek!” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Ramaswamy “won” the debate.
“He was articulate, comfortable, smiling, coherent, succinct and oozing intellect throughout. His closing statement was genius. He clearly was getting under the skin of many of the traditional old guard politicians on stage,” Brody said. “I’m sure that was by design but I think a little less overt aggression against them will help him next time. Extremely impressive performance!”
But others questioned whether he could be a viable alternative to Trump in the primary.
“I think he started out strong, but I think he did not wear well … as the debate went on,” said New Hampshire-based strategist Mike Dennehy.
“First and foremost, I would say is his unwavering defense of Donald Trump. It is beginning to look suspicious. This primary campaign is about Donald Trump and an alternative to Donald Trump,” Dennehy said. “So while Ramaswamy has had some success, it begs the question …. if he is able to take the mantle of alternative to Donald Trump, how will he debate and beat Donald Trump?”
The other Republican presidential campaigns are publicly brushing off Ramaswamy’s debate performance.
“During last night’s dominant debate win, Americans saw Ron DeSantis highlight a strong conservative record as governor and share a bold agenda to reverse our nation’s decline and revive America as the next president. If anyone should be worried about losing voters, it should be Joe Biden and the other Republican candidates,” said a senior DeSantis official.
Ken Farnaso, a spokesman for Haley’s campaign, while posting a clip of Haley’s attack on Ramaswamy, said on X that “23 seconds into this clip you’ll see the standing ovation and hear the deafening cheers @NikkiHaley gets for speaking some hard truths: Vivek Ramaswamy doesn’t have any foreign policy experience and will make America less safe.”
Ramaswamy remains a heavy underdog to Trump, as the former president’s indictments have done little to slow down Trump’s wide lead in the primary.
But Ramaswamy’s campaign argues polling showing him surpassing candidates like Pence and Haley shows they’re on the right track.
“We just got past the first debate. I mean he’s currently beating [a] former vice president, sitting governors and sitting senators and former U.N. ambassador,” McLaughlin said.
“This is a guy who no one knew who the heck he was. … He did introduce himself to the country last night, but we still got a lot of work to do … catching up on getting people to know who he is, how to pronounce his name and what he stands for, and I think we’re on our way,” she added.
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