In the overheated basement of the Thunder Bay Grille in Davenport, Iowa, on Thursday night, Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman turned Republican presidential candidate, tried out a new opening for his well-practiced speech.
“Even though it would be easier for someone like me to win this primary or win this election if certain people like Donald Trump weren’t in the race, that’s not how I want to win,” the biotech millionaire told loyal Scott County Republicans. that filled the room on the outskirts of this Mississippi River town.
“This is not how we do things in the United States,” he continued. “We are not a country where the ruling party should be able to use police force to prosecute their political opponents. And I don’t stop at politics, but at principles”.
It was a portentous barrage for a man running for president, one that questioned the integrity of a justice system that had just filed the first federal charges against a former president. And it’s something Mr. Ramaswamy admits he has struggled with, as his claims could undermine the rule of law he says he staunchly upholds.
The comments drew cheers from an audience not ready to disavow Trump, but perhaps looking for an alternative.
“I admire Trump for what he did for our country; I admire him immensely,” said Linda Chicarelli Renkes, of Rock Island, Illinois, across the Mississippi, who praised Ramaswamy for his promise to pardon the former president if he were elected. “But I’m tired.”
Trump’s indictment on charges of mishandling some of the nation’s most sensitive military and nuclear secrets, and then flagrantly obstructing law enforcement efforts to recover them, has left Republican political leaders at a time to choose between his loyalty to law and order and his sensitivity to the passions of his constituents.
More than any other presidential candidate not named Trump, Ramaswamy has taken an uncompromising position in attacking the charges facing the Republican primary frontrunner. He did not call the allegation “devastating” as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has. He has not called for Trump to drop out of the race, as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has.
He hasn’t attempted the writs of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, decrying federal overreach even as he suggests anyone mishandling classified documents should be prosecuted. He hasn’t even allowed special counsel Jack Smith’s allegations to be serious, as have former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott and former Governor Nikki Haley, both of South Carolina.
Instead, Ramaswamy has said that while Trump may have shown some errors in judgment, the Biden administration has dangerously abused its power to block the return of a political rival. In Davenport, he denounced what he called the “politicized persecution through prosecution” of enemies of the Biden administration, vowing to mass pardons for Biden’s victims, whether they are “peaceful protesters” jailed for the Capitol attack or Mr. .Trump.
For an outsider with no political experience beyond his cable news appearances and “anti-awakening” jeremiads against corporate liberalism, Ramaswamy is showing some staying power.
His poll numbers aren’t great: Trump’s own pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, released a poll after the impeachment that put Ramaswamy in the top 2 percent in Iowa, trailing five other candidates. But he has received the 40,000 individual donations to qualify for the Republican primary debates, and as of now, he has the required 1 percent in national polls for the first debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.
He also has deep ties to Republican powerhouses, including tech financier Peter Thiel and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
But his drive to the right, which had already alienated some of his business partners and financial backers, raises a new question: Are Republicans like Ramaswamy risking the country’s stability for their own political fortunes?
While Ramaswamy is the longest of the remote attempts when it comes to winning the nomination, some fear that the aggressive rhetoric he and other Republicans regularly use, both in defense of Trump and to attack the justice system, could do harm. durable.
In an interview on his well-equipped campaign bus, the candidate was circumspect. He agreed that his request that all candidates preemptively promise a clemency to Trump could lead to anarchy, though he concluded that his offer was defensible because it fit strictly with the charges set out in the special counsel’s indictment. . If other crimes came up at trial, such as passing on national security secrets to foreign powers, the deal would be off.
He also said he wanted to “make sure I’m not contributing to a problem that I care about deeply,” the erosion of the rule of law.
“The thought crosses my mind, but I think the facts are clear,” he said: President Biden has accused the main challenger from the other party to thwart his rise.
Biden did no such thing. A federal grand jury brought the indictment, at the behest of special counsel, appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland precisely to insulate Mr. Trump’s legal investigation from any perceived or actual pressure from the President or his political appointees. . .
Mr. Ramaswamy said that he was not prepared to accept that version of events. He flew to Miami the morning of Mr. Trump’s arraignment to announce to the television crews assembled in federal court that he had filed Freedom of Information Act requests for any and all communications between the White House and the leadership of the Department of Justice, and between the Department of Justice Department Leadership and Mr. Smith.
Mr. Ramaswamy has a law degree from Yale, although he made his fortune not in law but in finance and biotechnology. Yet he speaks with absolute certainty when he criticizes the validity of the federal grand jury indictment, which he said “reeks of politicization.” The Presidential Records Act, not the Espionage Act, is the legal authority governing former presidents, he said, and the records law gives former presidents broad latitude to keep documents from their years in the White House.
That reasoning has been dismissed by more experienced Republican legal minds, such as Trump himself. Attorney General William P. Barr, and retired appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig. judge luttig wrote on Twitter On the day of Mr. Trump’s arraignment, “there is not an attorney general of either party who would not have filed today’s charges against the former president.”
When asked about those trials, Ramaswamy said he would have to take a closer look at the words of people like Barr and Luttig. But he offered another defense of his attacks on the legal system: Republican voters already believe them.
“Really acknowledging a reality that other leaders are reluctant to acknowledge, I think actually improves net trust for our institutions,” he said.
Though he may be following the passions of voters, not leading them, Mr Ramaswamy insisted his stance was based on principle, not politics.
“I will be deeply disappointed if Donald Trump is unable to run due to these politicized charges against him,” he said.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s denunciation of impeachment is just the latest stand in a campaign based on his belief that the former president’s “America First” agenda belongs not to Mr. Trump, but to the American people, and that he has the intelligence and guts. to take it much further than Trump ever could.
If Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida and Trump’s closest competitor, is “Trumpism without Trump,” Ramaswamy casts himself as Trumpism squared.
The appeal has its limits, especially with ardent Trump supporters still wanting the real deal.
“I haven’t seen anything Vivek and Donald Trump say that don’t line up perfectly,” Clint Crawford, 48, of Eldridge, Iowa, said after seeing the candidate in session at the four-story Estes Construction offices. above downtown Davenport. . With the former president hell-bent on staying in the race, Crawford said, he won’t change.
But there’s a chance Trump won’t make it through a possible federal trial, another possible trial in New York on felony charges related to hush pay to a porn star, a looming Georgia indictment over efforts to repeal the 2020 law. election results there, and more to come from Mr. Smith.
If Trump retires, Ramaswamy intends to be the alternative.
“He’s so ongoing with Trump — he’s our past, he’s our present and he’s not going to stop,” said Penny Overbaugh, 77, who stood up in Bettendorf, Iowa, on Thursday to praise Ramaswamy for his performance in Miami. . on the morning of the appearance. As for the younger challenger, “the fact that she could see the hypocrisy of the two-sided justice system, she has conviction.”