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It was the night of the fourth and final GOP presidential debate and Vivek Ramaswamy remained true to form: really annoying and desperate for attention. When the 38-year-old Republican wasn’t picking fights on stage with the other primary candidates (usually former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), he was proudly pushing outlandish and dangerous far-right conspiracy theories.
Most of his ire was reserved for Haley (they seem to loathe each other), who Ramaswamy lambasted as uneducated and fake, a “puppet” and a “fascist.” (“I don’t question her faith. I question her authenticity,” Ramaswamy said of Haley, to the moderators.) At one point, attempting to label Haley as a corporate shill, he scribbled a sign on his notepad that read “Nikki = Corrupt” and held it up for the audience. Christie often jumped into the fray to attack Ramaswamy directly, mostly for his lack of experience and complete insincerity but also to defend Haley. (Ramaswamy fired back at one point with a crude remark about Christie’s weight.)
Ramaswamy has, at so many points of the GOP primary campaign, appeared to cynically boost any Trumpian-style talking point that will get him some media hits. And the fourth debate served as a kind of sprint to fit them all in. At one point, when moderators asked each candidate about their view of Donald Trump—who was once again not present but is still leading in basically all GOP polling—Ramaswamy’s answer devolved into a chaotic word salad of far-right-wing conspiracy theories, all of which lack any evidence but are nonetheless pervasive and dangerous.
He said: “Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6 now does look like it was an inside job? That the government lied to us for 20 years about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11? That the Great Replacement Theory is not some grand right-wing conspiracy theory, but a basic statement of the Democratic party’s platform? That the 2020 election was indeed stolen by Big Tech? That the 2016 election, the one that Trump won for sure, was also one that was stolen from him by the national security establishment—” And that’s where a moderator began to cut him off.
The New York Times referred to it as Ramaswamy’s “Alex Jones moment.” But it wasn’t his only one.
When, at the end of the night, each candidate was prompted to give a closing argument, Ramaswamy used his time to launch into a tirade about how “the climate change agenda is a hoax” and call climate change mitigation efforts “a substitute for a modern religion.” The other candidates used the time to make the case for themselves as leaders. It was a telling contrast.
It’s clear that Ramaswamy is just trying to channel his obvious inspiration and the GOP front-runner—Trump. Despite being three years out from his second presidential election loss, Trump continues to promote baseless claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent and stolen from him, and will basically push any conspiracy theory that works for him and his base. Ramaswamy’s tactics weren’t novel. But the cynical way he rattled them off made for a new kind of low.