Vivek Ramaswamy | The anti-woke populist 

The Indian American entrepreneur, known for his hard right views, has joined the GOP race

Updated - February 26, 2023 05:09 pm IST

Published - February 26, 2023 02:00 am IST

Vivek Ramaswamy announced his entry into the race for the Republican nomination.

Vivek Ramaswamy announced his entry into the race for the Republican nomination.

A year before the Presidential election is scheduled to begin in the U.S., a wealthy hedge fund partner and former biotechnology executive, Vivek Ramaswamy, announced his entry into the race for the Republican nomination in an appearance on the far-right talk show hosted by Tucker Carlsen on the Fox News channel.

Mr. Ramaswamy is not the first Indian-American to get into the fray — former Republican Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana had also tried his hand at the Republican primaries in 2016 and former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, is now also a contestant for the 2024 race.

Indian-Americans overwhelmingly endorse the Democratic party — a recent Asian American Voter Survey in 2022 found 68% of respondents favouring the donkey over the elephant, highest among Asian American groups. But that has not deterred high profile Indian-Americans to hitch their wagons to the Republican Party by professing an assortment of conservative political values.

Mr. Ramaswamy’s unique pitch is in holding fort on right-wing populism, with a special emphasis on strident opposition to what he terms “woke’ism”. A word that has its origins in Black American activism of the 20th century and meant “awareness” about racial prejudice and discrimination and opposition to it, it is now invoked pejoratively by conservatives to term any position related to affirmative action, social justice and government intervention and regulation.

Mr. Ramaswamy’s pet peeve and over which he has had quite the bee in the bonnet about is “environmental, social and governance investing or E.S.G”, a term that denotes a measurable emphasis by corporates on sustainability issues related to climate change, worker and community wellbeing among other factors. Mr. Ramaswamy made a name for himself in conservative circles by his strident questioning of ESG practices, terming them as unethical and that they upend the democratic process and instead that they should focus on profit maximisation. He later secured financial support from prominent conservative financiers such as Peter Thiel in establishing Strive Asset Management, a vehicle that invests in large public companies and seeks to refocus them into profit maximisation without a recourse to ESG practices. Previously, Mr. Ramaswamy was the founder of a healthcare company, Roivant Sciences, that built subsidiary healthcare tech companies, focusing on drug development. These ventures earned him substantial wealth, which he plans to put into use in the campaign in the Grand Old Party primaries which now includes former President Donald Trump and Ms. Nikki Haley.

Culture war

Mr. Ramaswamy’s politics is rooted in the Trumpian offshoot of right-wing populism that seeks to garner the mandate of the white middle and working-class voters by attacking affirmative action and advocacy movements such as Black Lives Matter, gender-driven politics and targeting wealthy corporations seeking to use ESG practices as well. This stream of thought, however, is less or even least concerned with wealthy special interests in American politics that have used lobbying and propping up the political class to scuttle attempts at welfare, redistribution or worker rights, which primarily benefit the working class. By reorienting the political battle between the Republicans and the Democrats as a new culture war, right-wing populism has succeeded in dividing the working and middle classes on race and education lines furthering the polarisation in the American polity.

Whether Mr. Ramaswamy’s attempt as a political outsider succeeds as Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency did remains a tough question. Mr. Trump had far more of a public profile besides the fact that he belonged to the White American community that helped him overcome the GOP establishment in securing the presidency. Mr. Ramaswamy has none of those advantages, but by coming up with a unique ideological tool to promote right-wing populism, he caters well to the GOP discourse besides allowing the party to showcase its racial diversity, something that it did with the candidacy of Ben Carson and Herman Cain in previous elections.

The strident advocacy against progressivism of any kind will also allow Mr. Ramaswamy to gain the spotlight through appearances on networks such as Fox and some mileage, but as things stand, his candidacy is a clear long shot.

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