Emulating Trump, Ramaswamy Shows a Penchant for Dispensing With the Facts
In his breakout performance in the Republican primary race, Vivek Ramaswamy has harnessed his populist bravado while frequently and unapologetically contorting the truth for political gain, much in the same way that former President Donald J. Trump has mastered.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s pattern of falsehoods has been the subject of intensifying scrutiny by the news media and, more recently, his G.O.P. opponents, who clashed with him often during the party’s first debate last Wednesday.
There are layers to Mr. Ramaswamy’s distortions: He has spread lies and exaggerations on subjects including the 2020 election results, the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol and climate change. When challenged on those statements, Mr. Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur who is the first millennial Republican to run for president, has in several instances claimed that he had never made them or that he had been taken out of context.
But his denials have repeatedly been refuted by recordings and transcripts from Mr. Ramaswamy’s interviews — or, in some cases, excerpts from his own book.
Here are some notable occasions when he sought to retreat from his past statements or mischaracterized basic facts:
A misleading anecdote
At a breakfast round table event organized by his campaign on Friday in Indianola, Iowa, Mr. Ramaswamy recounted how he had visited the South Side of Chicago in May to promote his immigration proposals to a mostly Black audience.
He boasted that nowhere had his ideas on the issue been more enthusiastically received than in the nation’s third most populous city, where his appearance had followed community protests over the housing of migrants in a local high school.
“I have never been in a room more in favor of my proposal to use the U.S. military to secure the southern border and seal the Swiss cheese down there than when I was in a nearly all-Black room of supposedly mostly Democrats on the South Side of Chicago,” he said.
But Mr. Ramaswamy’s retelling of the anecdote was sharply contradicted by the observations of a New York Times reporter who covered both events.
The reporter witnessed the audience in Chicago pepper Mr. Ramaswamy about reparations, systemic racism and his opposition to affirmative action. Immigration was barely mentioned during the formal program. It was so absent that a Ramaswamy campaign aide at one point pleaded for questions on the issue. With that prompting, a single Republican consultant stood up to question Mr. Ramaswamy on his proposals.
In one of the more heated exchanges of last week’s G.O.P. debate, former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey criticized Mr. Ramaswamy for lionizing Mr. Trump and defending his actions during the Jan. 6 attack.
He sought to cast Mr. Ramaswamy as an opportunist who was trying to pander to Mr. Trump’s supporters by attributing the riot to government censorship during the 2020 election.
“In your book, you had much different things to say about Donald Trump than you’re saying here tonight,” Mr. Christie said.
Mr. Ramaswamy bristled and said, “That’s not true.”
But in his 2022 book “Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence,” Mr. Ramaswamy had harsh words for Mr. Trump and gave a more somber assessment of the violence.
“It was a dark day for democracy,” Mr. Ramaswamy wrote. “The loser of the last election refused to concede the race, claimed the election was stolen, raised hundreds of millions of dollars from loyal supporters, and is considering running for executive office again. I’m referring, of course, to Donald Trump.”
When asked by The Times about the excerpt, Mr. Ramaswamy insisted that his rhetoric had not evolved and pointed out that he had co-written an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal five days after the Jan. 6 attack that was critical of the actions of social media companies during the 2020 election.
“Also what I said at the time was that I really thought what Trump did was regrettable,” he said. “I would have handled it very differently if I was in his shoes. I will remind you that I am running for U.S. president in the same race that Donald Trump is running right now.”
Mr. Ramaswamy parsed his criticism of the former president, however.
“But a bad judgment is not the same thing as a crime,” he said.
During the debate, Mr. Ramaswamy also sparred with former Vice President Mike Pence, whose senior aide and onetime chief of staff Marc Short told NBC News the next day that Mr. Ramaswamy was not a genuine populist.
“There’s populism and then there’s just simply fraud,” he said.
Conspiracy theories about Sept. 11
Since entering the race, Mr. Ramaswamy has repeatedly floated conspiracy theories about a cover-up by the federal government in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a narrative seemingly tailored to members of the G.O.P.’s right wing who are deeply distrustful of institutions.
In a recent profile by The Atlantic, he told the magazine, “I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the twin towers.”
While he acknowledged that he had “no reason” to believe that the number was “anything other than zero,” Mr. Ramaswamy suggested that the government had not been transparent about the attacks.
“But if we’re doing a comprehensive assessment of what happened on 9/11, we have a 9/11 commission, absolutely that should be an answer the public knows the answer to,” he said.
Yet when Mr. Ramaswamy was asked to clarify those remarks by Kaitlan Collins of CNN two nights before last week’s debate, he backtracked and accused The Atlantic of misquoting him.
“I’m telling you the quote is wrong, actually,” he said.
Soon after Mr. Ramaswamy claimed that his words had been twisted, The Atlantic released a recording and transcript from the interview that confirmed that he had indeed been quoted accurately.
When asked in an interview on Saturday whether the audio had undercut his argument, Mr. Ramaswamy reiterated his contention that the news media had often misrepresented him.
“I think there’s a reason why,” he said, suggesting that his free-flowing way of speaking broke the mold of so-called scripted candidates. “I just don’t speak like a traditional politician, and I think the system is not used to that. The political media is not used to that. And that lends itself naturally then to being inaccurately portrayed, to being distorted.”
Mr. Trump’s allies have used similar justifications when discussing the former president’s falsehoods, citing his stream-of-consciousness speaking style. His allies and supporters have admired his impulse to refuse to apologize or back down when called out, an approach Mr. Ramaswamy has echoed.
Mr. Ramaswamy said that he was asked about Sept. 11 while discussing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and his repeated calls for an accounting of how many federal agents were in the field that day. His campaign described The Atlantic’s recording as a “snippet.”
At the start of The Times’s conversation with Mr. Ramaswamy, he said that he assumed that the interview was being recorded and noted that his campaign was recording, too.
“We’re now doing mutually on the record, so just F.Y.I.,” he said.
Pardoning Hunter Biden
No news outlet has been off-limits to Mr. Ramaswamy’s claims of being misquoted: This month, he denounced a New York Post headline that read: “GOP 2024 candidate Vivek Ramaswamy ‘open’ to pardon of Hunter Biden.”
The Aug. 12 article cited an interview that The Post had conducted with him.
“After we have shut down the F.B.I., after we have refurbished the Department of Justice, after we have systemically pardoned anyone who was a victim of a political motivated persecution — from Donald Trump and peaceful January 6 protests — then would I would be open to evaluating pardons for members of the Biden family in the interest of moving the nation forward,” Mr. Ramaswamy was quoted as saying.
The next morning on Fox News Channel, which, like The Post, is owned by News Corp, Mr. Ramaswamy told the anchor Maria Bartiromo that the report was erroneous.
“Maria, that was misquoted and purposeful opposition research with the headline,” he said. “You know how this game is played.”
The Post did not respond to a request for comment.
In an interview with The Times, Mr. Ramaswamy described the headline as “manufactured” and said it was part of “the ridiculous farce of this gotcha game.”
In the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the Masks for All Act, a bill proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that aimed to provide every person in the United States with three free N95 masks, appeared to receive an unlikely endorsement on Twitter — from Mr. Ramaswamy.
“My policy views don’t often align with Bernie, but this strikes me as a sensible idea,” he wrote in July 2020. “The cost is a tiny fraction of other less compelling federal expenditures on COVID-19.”
Mr. Ramaswamy was responding to an opinion column written for CNN by Mr. Sanders, who is a democratic socialist, and Andy Slavitt, who was later a top pandemic adviser to Mr. Biden. He said they should have picked someone from the political right as a co-author to show that there was a consensus on masks.
But when he was pressed this summer by Josie Glabach of the Red Headed Libertarian podcast about whether he had ever supported Mr. Sanders’s mask measure, he answered no.
When asked by The Times for further clarification, Mr. Ramaswamy acknowledged that he was an early supporter of wearing masks, but said that he no longer believed that they prevented the spread of the virus. He accused his political opponents of conflating his initial stance with support for mask mandates, which he said he had consistently opposed.
An analogy to Rosa Parks?
When he was asked by the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on his show in June whether he would pardon the former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden for leaking documents about the United States government’s surveillance programs, Mr. Ramaswamy said yes and invoked an unexpected name: the civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
He said that Mr. Snowden, a fugitive, had demonstrated heroism to hold the government accountable.
“Part of what makes that risk admirable — Rosa Parks long ago — is the willingness to bear punishment he already has,” he said. “That’s also why I would ensure that he was a free man.”
To Mr. Hewitt, the analogy was jarring.
“Wait, wait, wait, did you just compare Rosa Parks to Edward Snowden?” he said.
Mr. Ramaswamy immediately distanced himself from such a comparison, while then reinforcing it, suggesting that they had both effectuated progress of a different kind.
“No, I did not,” he said. “But I did compare the aspect of their willingness to take a risk in order for at the time breaking a rule that at the time was punishable.”
Neil Vigdor covers political news for The Times. More about Neil Vigdor
Jonathan Weisman is a Chicago-based political correspondent, veteran journalist and author of the novel “No. 4 Imperial Lane” and the nonfiction book “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” His career in journalism stretches back 30 years. More about Jonathan Weisman
Maggie Haberman is a senior political correspondent and the author of “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. More about Maggie Haberman
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