October 1, 2023

Editor’s Note: Are you upset at Matt for running an Ask Matt two weeks in a row, because you think you’re special, just like your heroes Prince Harry and Meghan, and are therefore entitled to greater variety?  Well sorry, your royal highness, don’t ask Matt about it, as he will only drink your salty liberal tears. Also, your conservative and moderate ones. (Matt will drink anything.)  Send less whiny questions to [email protected]

Dear Matt,
You’re a political expert, if by expert, I mean you read
Politico once or twice a month. Should I be worried about Vivek Ramaswamy?
Daniel S.

Worried that he’ll become America’s sweetheart? No. Even his campaign staffers can’t spell his name without a cheat sheet. Worried that he’ll become the GOP nominee? No. The FiveThirtyEight polling average currently has him “surging” to third place at 7.2 percent, which is two points ahead of Mike Pence (who MAGA voters thought would take the hint to get lost when they literally tried to hang him). And which is roughly seven points ahead of more principled candidates like Asa Hutchinson and Will Hurd, who aren’t even a full point ahead of me, and I’m not running.

But Vivek, or “the Ramaswamy Tsunami” as his campaign literature brags, is still comfortably behind distant second-place Ron DeSantis (15.6 percent), governor of the most prominent third-world state in the nation. One that in just the last week, can boast of getting Shakespeare censored in schools, of hawks and snakes falling out of the sky to attack people on their lawnmowers, and of –  and I’m not making this up – leprosy outbreaks. As DeSantis likes to say to his over-gel’ed bête noire, Gavin Newsom, governor of America’s largest open-air homeless shelter, America doesn’t want to be Californicated. Give us leprosy, or give us death!

But even DeSantis is a good 37 points behind everyone’s favorite tangelo-flavored brand manager and future inmate, Donald J. Trump. It seems that neither prosecutors nor common decency can stop the soon-to-be quadruply-indicted Trump from running away with the GOP nomination. An act of God certainly could. But one suspects God’s just toying with us for his own amusement now that Righteous Gemstones is all finished for the season.  Plus, God sort of has his hands full with leprosy outbreaks and raining snakes in Florida. {Post-publication correction: A vigilant reader reminded me that the snake-rain happened in Texas, not Florida – some considering Texas Florida-Central. My mistake. I believe I originally read it in a Florida paper. Though maybe not. But I’m pro-transparency, so here you see my prejudices at work. I am prepared to believe the worst about Florida since they so often live up to my expectations. It felt like a Florida story, so I went with it. But they are still a leper colony. So there is that……}

Now if the question you’re actually getting at is: “Is Vivek Ramaswamy a two-bit hustler who will do or say anything to appease the GOP frontrunner’s primary voters, which he, like three-fourths of the rest of the GOP field, is terrified of?” – then don’t let me stop you from worrying.

I generally don’t like to go around quoting myself – though as I once said, and I quote, “If I don’t, who will?” In fact, I prefer to name-check wiser company, like Mark Twain: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” 

Or the Deep Thoughts guy, Jack Handey: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.”

But as I recently wrote of Ramaswamy on Substack Notes:

Calling him a “twerp,” of course, might be a bridge too far. I’m not proud of that. It was un-Christian of me. Which I suspect Vivek can easily forgive me for, since he’s Hindu. But suggesting he’s as oily as a can of StarKist?  Well that’s just truth in advertising.

Like most faux-populists these days, he has stellar common-man credentials:  a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, a  J.D. from Yale Law, hedge-fund investment partner and biotech bro, who was worth $15 million before graduating from law school.  (As of April, Forbes claims he’s worth $630 million.)

I won’t deep dive into his nominal positions on the issues for you, not even the moronic ones like raising the voting age to 25, since who needs issues these days? Remember those? I don’t, since we haven’t needed to discuss them since about 2014. The only issue that seems to currently matter in GOP primary politics is Donald Trump, and where you stand on him and his multiple indictments. But around 2021, Ramaswamy took a break from counting his money to raise his profile as a cable commentator and anti-wokeness gong-sounder with his book, Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam. Which, fine. Any sensible person can and should detest the wokeness suckerfish (me included!), even if the only ones who currently rival wokesters in the making-us-sleepy department are the forever-opportunistic anti-wokesters, who blame wokeism for everything from traffic congestion to irritable bowel syndrome.

Think I’m exaggerating? Well, Ramaswamy recently blamed MAGA’s high holy day of January 6 on “pervasive censorship,” instead of the demagogue-in-chief and his media handmaidens pumping the invaders full of lies for months by claiming that the election Trump clearly lost was stolen.  And that is the problem in a nut with Vivek Ramaswamy.  He is obviously a smart guy (he probably has 20 IQ points on me), who has no problem pretending to be a nut. Since nuttiness has become the coin of the realm in the GOP.  For a guy who likes to campaign behind a podium placard that simply reads “Truth,” Vivek doesn’t tell it an awful lot of the time.

As a bit of a truth fetishist myself, this warrants further discussion. In addition to playing fast-and-loose with the truth about the insurrection – the most disgraceful day of any presidency, regardless of how the indictments shake out – Ramaswamy now openly plays footsie with conspiracy theorists, not unlike the Mango Messiah whose name he refuses to take in vain, and whose voters he hopes will mistake him for. When recently asked on Blaze TV if he believed 9/11 was “an inside job” or “exactly like the government tells us,” Vivek elected to tickle the testicles of the ironically-named 9/11 Truthers, responding, “I don’t believe the government has told us the truth. I’m driven by evidence and data. What I’ve seen in the last several years is we have to be skeptical of what the government does tell us. I haven’t seen evidence to the contrary, but do I believe everything the government told us about it? Absolutely not. Do I believe the 9/11 Commission? Absolutely not.”

Was this a slam-dunk suggestion that the U.S. government blew up the World Trade Center? No, it wasn’t. As Politico stipulated, after the clip was made public, Ramaswamy quickly clarified: “Al-Qaeda clearly planned and executed the attacks, but we have never fully addressed who knew what in the Saudi government about it. We *can* handle the TRUTH.” I’m all for a good old-fashioned Saudi-bashing. They earned it back then by exporting terrorism, and keep earning it now, by chopping up our journalists and gouging our oil prices. But that’s not what Vivek was up to. He is a smart enough guy to know he was doing an impression of a dumb guy, trying to appeal to the low-sloping foreheads and pitchfork-wielders by inference, who are utterly prepared to believe that the Deep State felled the World Trade Center.  

And being a smart guy pretending to be a dumb guy is sort of his campaign’s raison d’etre, to use an un-populist word. Because when it comes to his cynical slipperiness, the Wall Street Journal’s John McCormick recently served as Ramaswamy’s one-man wrecking crew, revealing:

  • Though he declined to say he’d have certified election results as Mike Pence did, and vowed to pardon Trump if he was convicted for trying to overturn the 2020 election, Ramaswamy admitted on February 6, 2021 that “Joe Biden is our legally elected President.”

  • In one of his books, he supported inheritance tax rates as high as 59 percent, which rural Iowans know less fondly as “the death tax.”

  • Though he’s now posing as God’s gift to Republicans, he’s registered as “unaffiliated” in Ohio, where he lives, and has never even voted for a Republican nationally until backing Trump in 2020. Campaign finance records show him giving money to Democrats instead, including a state senate candidate in Massachusetts with long-time Obama-administration ties who’d been endorsed by conservative darling, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Ramaswamy’s campaign claimed that donation was to a college friend, and should not be read as a political statement.)

  • Most hilariously, McCormick revealed that though Vivek’s been making his bones as an anti-woke warrior, while chief executive of Roivant Sciences and Axovant Sciences, he signed a joint 2017 letter that was created by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council calling for “driving diversity and inclusion” in the industry. To which Ramaswamy responded to the Journal: “I don’t recall signing that. I never signed or authorized the signing of that.”

Okay, if he says so…….Maybe he was sleep-writing when signing the woke letter. But whatever. Is Ramaswamy the most dishonest man in the GOP field? Of course not. The competition’s too stiff. He’s probably around third place in that department, which is, coincidentally, where he stands in the polls. But it does serve as evidence that the 37-year-old newcomer is less a cure for the dishonesty disease that currently plagues the GOP, than yet another symptom of it. Because even if his campaign signs insist he’s telling the Truth, he knows something his placards don’t know: that in today’s political climate, it pays not to tell it.

To tax your patience (much like Vivek wants to tax the wealth you’d planned to pass on to your children) and to quote myself once more after being subjected to Vivek’s libertarian hip-hop stylings:

Though a side-note to the Ramaswamy campaign:  A reader named Randolph Carter, who writes the Substack, The Plenum, has come up with a better concept for the Ramaswamy Tsunami going forward.

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Bonus Track:  While trying to pull a tune centering around the theme of annoying rich guys, I couldn’t top the one on annoying rich girls, the Hall & Oates classic of the same name, covered brilliantly here by Lake Street Dive and their seriously wonderful front woman, Rachael Price.