New Hampshire has been a good news-bad news story for pharmacy exec-turned-GOP-presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy.
On the good news side, the first-in-the-nation primary state was open to giving him a closer look. On the bad news front, Ramaswamy hasn’t worn well over time. Once in a surprising second place in New Hampshire behind Donald Trump, he has now faded to fifth in the polls here.
Back to the sunny side of things. The political newcomer made it into both national Republican debates and has qualified for the third, on Nov. 8.
But now the autumn clouds: His surpassingly self-satisfied demeanor did not play well in the first national TV encounter. Nor did his assertion that his Republican rivals were “bought and paid for.” Perhaps because of that comment, his tone-deaf ears found themselves roundly boxed in the second forum.
Thus it was a public relations coup when, after a social media set-to, Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California, a Silicon Valley congressman who also seems to dream of bigger things, agreed to come to New Hampshire to debate his fellow Indian American. More good news still! The event brought a sizable crowd of spectators and reporters to Saint Anselm’s indispensable New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
But there, alas, things hit a political pothole.
Perhaps because the exchange allowed for extended policy explorations and explanations, the debate further revealed Ramaswamy for what he is: A cocksure egotist with an endless array of empty-calorie political platitudes, all imparted with a practiced sonority that suggested he considers his piffle somehow profound.
For his part, Khanna politely poked holes in Ramaswamy’s pronouncements.
It wasn’t just overspending but also the Reagan, Bush, and Trump tax cuts that helped create the large national debt that Ramaswamy and conservatives invariably attribute to the spending side alone, the congressman pointed out. Notwithstanding its appeal as a populist pitch, cutting 75 percent of the federal workforce isn’t remotely realistic, given the expertise those employees have and the many functions they carry out, Khanna noted.
And though isolationism may have been an effective foreign policy in the 18th century, it’s really not the proper prescription for today’s more immediate and complicated world, he argued after Ramaswamy said he would make George Washington’s no-foreign-entanglement foreign policy his own.
Ramaswamy indulged in his usual obscurantist spiel about climate change, which is a glop of gallimaufry that nods enough to the science to keep him from being labeled an utter denier but still arrives at the convenient conclusion that there’s no problem with producing and consuming as much fossil fuel as we can.
Afterward, I noted that he has called climate change a hoax and asked who he thought was propagating the hoax. No, he corrected, he had called “the climate agenda” a hoax, without specifying what the distinction means.
OK, so who is propagating that hoax?
Why, “a lot of vested interests,” he replied, including China, “who is using this to constrain the United States while being unshackled in its own right.” That ignores the logic and latitude necessary to arrive at the Paris Agreement: Because the United States has cumulatively emitted the most greenhouse gases of any nation, China has been granted a longer emissions-reduction schedule.
I asked Ramaswamy if he thought he knew more about climate change than the world’s leading climate scientists.
“I feel like I know more than the media and the political class, who is consuming what the media feeds them, rather than going to the original sources.” He mentioned several dissenters, including former Obama administration official Steven Koonin, who disagree with the strong consensus about climate change. I noted they were outliers.
“I graduated at the top of my class in molecular biology from Harvard,” he replied. “I didn’t do that by listening to what the media told me about the science. I do it by actually reading the primary science itself.”
Asked by another reporter why his campaign is fading, Ramaswamy predicted a large swell in the months ahead, powered by young people.
“Many of the people we are seeing in this campaign are college students,” he said. “We are bringing young people along at a scale we haven’t seen in the Republican Party.”
I spoke to several Saint Anselm students to see what they thought.
“He kind of lost me on climate change and his isolationism,” said one. Noting that the world is already seeing pronounced effects of climate change, including population displacement, another found his climate stance silly. Ramaswamy’s economic prescriptions reminded him of Reaganomics, a third noted, skeptically.
Which leads to this thought: More bad news seems likely for Ramaswamy on primary night. But that cloud will carry this silver lining: He’ll then have time to audit some courses at St. A’s, whose students seem far better grounded in the real world than is he.