He has no government experience, but plenty of conspiratorial demagoguery to sell.
A particularly low point of last week’s GOP presidential debate came at around the 39-minute mark, when an unusually glib, shallow, overbearing, smooth-talking biotech entrepreneur proclaimed himself “the only person on the stage who isn’t bought and paid for.” That’s when most Americans, and most Republicans, got their first real look at Vivek Ramaswamy.
The candidate offered no proof for his charge. He didn’t care that his opponents have more than 123 years of public service among them, serving as vice president, governor, senator, representative, Drug Enforcement Agency administrator, undersecretary of homeland security, U.S. attorney, state legislator, county council member and combat veteran.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s public service? None. That’s ironic given that at 18 he asked the Rev. Al Sharpton, a candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, at an MSNBC forum: “Of all the Democratic candidates out there, why should I vote for the one with the least political experience?” Add to the mix that Mr. Ramaswamy was evidently so uninterested in the nation’s direction that he couldn’t be bothered to vote in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s “bought and paid for” comment was part of a pattern of demagoguery. He regularly appeals to voters’ conspiratorial instincts. During a conversation with the Atlantic’s John Hendrickson, he said, “I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers. Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right? I have no reason to think it was anything other than zero. But if we’re doing a comprehensive assessment of what happened on 9/11, we have a 9/11 commission, absolutely that should be an answer the public knows the answer to.” Mr. Ramaswamy later claimed he was misquoted. That is a lie; his grotesque comments are on tape.
We know exactly who was on those planes. Their names are memorialized at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and solemnly read each year in a ceremony at Ground Zero. A distinguished commission issued a report on 9/11, which found that Islamic fanatics attacked America. Why would Mr. Ramaswamy suggest otherwise? Does he think there’s something to be gained from disrespecting the law-enforcement officers who were victims of the attacks rather than blaming their terrorist perpetrators?
Mr. Ramaswamy is quick to disregard the truth when it’s politically expedient. Discussing the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots with Tucker Carlson at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit in July, the GOP hopeful said, “What caused January 6th is pervasive censorship.” When “you tell people they cannot scream,” he explained, “that is when they tear things down.”
It didn’t matter to Mr. Ramaswamy that President Trump’s stolen-election claims got their day in court and couldn’t be proved. Or that the militia members, Proud Boys and an outright mob Mr. Trump whipped up on the Capitol steps weren’t merely trying to scream. They beat police officers bloody trying to stop a joint session of Congress. How weird for a person seeking to represent a party that once championed law and order to excuse this sort of behavior.
There’s more. During a New Hampshire Q&A in June, a voter claimed the Federal Reserve “is illegally taking money out the back door, not through the proper channels, or adding zeroes to bank accounts to the media or maybe your political opponents.” He asked Mr. Ramaswamy, “How are you going to stop that illegal under-the-table spending of money from the Federal Reserve?”
With a sign behind him emblazoned with the word “Truth,” Mr. Ramaswamy indulged the crank rather than set him straight. “You’re correct to point out what very few people are aware of. Absolutely, that happens.”
No, it doesn’t.
It’s easy to dismiss Mr. Ramaswamy as a present-day Professor Harold Hill, the con man in “The Music Man” with a ready smile and rapid patter skinning the citizens of River City. But Hill wanted only to sell band uniforms and musical instruments. Mr. Ramaswamy wants to control America’s nuclear codes—or perhaps to occupy a comfortable seat in Mr. Trump’s cabinet.
He is a performance artist who says outrageous things, smears his opponents and appeals to the dark parts of the American psyche. There’s already a GOP candidate who does all those things, and worse. Republicans deserve a choice, not an echo.
Mr. Rove, a Journal columnist, helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).