Running as an Outsider

Running as an Outsider

As expected, our fellow opponent of ESG and woke capital, Vivek Ramaswamy, officially launched his bid for the White House last night.  The content of his announcement – which he made on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” – was paradoxically predictable and exceptional.  It was exceptional in that Ramaswamy made a case for an interconnected political, cultural, and economic revival that is completely out of the political mainstream, offering a far too precarious and unconventional message for most politicians.  It was predictable in that this message – precarious and unconventional though it may be – is what we have come to expect from Ramaswamy, who appears to have no fear whatsoever of the cultural and political elites who otherwise make such earnest and frank discussion impossible.

Good for him we say.  And good for us, as a nation.  These are the types of discussions we should be having.  And if Ramaswamy can force the rest of the candidates to think about them and address them seriously, then his campaign will be an enormous success, even if he doesn’t win a single state.

Over the past several days, since it became clear that Ramaswamy has political ambitions, we’ve noticed a few other incidents and attitudes that make him a wholly unconventional politician.  The behavior he exhibits will, in many cases, distinguish him from his rivals – and especially from the elephant in the room, the former president.  Only time will tell, however, whether it will help or hurt his cause.

Recently, for example, Ramaswamy discussed and issued a warning about Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), which he suggested constitute a precursor to social credit scoring.  That in itself was unusual, but it wasn’t even the interesting part.  When he was praised on Twitter for being one of only a few politicians knowledgeable and daring to tackle the issue, he responded by saying: “I’d love nothing more than for everyone in the field to jump on the CBDC issue with me.”  That’s a very un-politician-like response.  To hope, openly, that other candidates adopt your position and, thereby, deprive you of an issue that differentiates you from them is vanishingly rare in politics, to put it mildly.

Likewise, Ramaswamy has made a big deal about the message that he’s bringing to the campaign – and justly so.  It’s a unique and powerful message.  And yet, he doesn’t seem to want to claim exclusive ownership of it.  “The Republican Party,” he writes, “needs to focus less on the ‘who’ – and more on the ‘what’ and ‘why.’”

To be sure, Ramaswamy goes on to note that he is launching a “cultural movement.”  Nevertheless, the idea that voters should focus more on the message and less on the messenger is shockingly un-politician-like thinking.

Finally, last night, after he made his announcement, Ramaswamy was pilloried on social media, mostly by Trump supporters, who (incorrectly) tried to tie him to the World Economic Forum, who called him a variety of condescending names, and who explicitly questioned his conservative bona fides.  Some of the posts got quite ugly.

Rather than get angry, respond in kind, or even simply ignore the attacks, however, Ramaswamy did something highly unusual: he engaged with his critics – calmly, coolly, and illuminatingly.  In response to the claim that he was a WEF “Young Global Leader” in 2021, for example, Vivek patiently and honestly engaged with the criticism, denied it, and then posted a section from his upcoming book explaining it.

Over the past several years, we have all grown accustomed to politicians either ignoring criticism or reflexively attacking all critics.  Once again, though, Ramaswamy breaks with tradition, addressing his detractors as if they were engaging in intellectually honest debate – which they were, in many cases, not doing.

That’s bold.  It’s brave.  It’s unusual.

The question is, “will it be successful?”

As we’ve noted, we like Ramaswamy personally and we share a great deal in common with him philosophically.  And as a result, we tend to see his quirks in a positive light and to describe them in glowing terms (like “bold” and “brave”).  But that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily politically advantageous.  We’d like to believe they are, but, in truth, we don’t know any such thing.  We initially thought Donald Trump’s “quirks” would be disadvantageous, after all, and we were embarrassingly wrong.

There are reasons that politicians do what they do and behave as they behave.  And not all of those reasons are symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.  Some things they do because those things have been proven, over time, to produce positive electoral responses.  Some things they do because those things maintain peace and order among otherwise antagonistic constituencies.  Being a successful politician isn’t easy, but there are plenty of examples from whom to learn.

Some of these tried-and-true lessons that seem distasteful to outsiders are, fittingly enough, the things that tend to trip up “outsiders.”  Outsiders don’t run for office because they like the status quo but because they want to change it.  And sometimes, the status quo is resistant enough to change that it wins convincingly.  Professional politicians learn this quickly.

Again, our personal opinion is that Ramaswamy’s quirks are endearing and will aid his upstart candidacy.  But we don’t know that for sure.  Indeed, if we’ve learned anything over the last quarter-century-plus, it’s that there’s not much that we know about the electorate for sure.  Voters baffle us.

Time will tell if they baffle Ramaswamy as well.



Click here for a National Review Online piece on ESG and conservatives’ responsibility to push back against it, from Stand Together’s Russ Greene and yours truly.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.