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Entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy and former Governor from South Carolina and UN ambassador Nikki Haley gesture as they speak during a Republican Presidential primary debate Image Credit: AFP

Two of the four Republican candidates campaigning in the 2024 US Presidential race are up against odds as the date for nominating the Republican candidate nears. The two candidates of Indian descent — 51 year-old Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and US ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, and 38-year old Vivek Ramaswamy, a successful entrepreneur, have both landed in hot water with their comments and demeanour.

Let’s talk about Ramaswamy first. An entrepreneur lacking experience in dealing with the predatory animals of the political jungle, Ramaswamy made, at times, wild statements about what he would or would not do, if elected US President. He was applauded, initially, in the televised Republican debates but by the time the fourth debate ended, he appeared lost with his uncontrollable outbursts at rival candidate Nikki Haley.

Lashing out at children of rival candidates is something sacrosanct and, according to political etiquette, one should maintain a dignified tone in a Presidential debate. Many Republicans, including the Republican rival candidate Chris Christie, were appalled by Ramaswamy’s personal attacks against Haley, and defended her.

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Ramaswamy has, meanwhile, stopped spending on television advertisements, with some interpreting this as a sign that he has realised the futility of wasting precious resources on television advertising of his campaign. According to his spokesperson, he would concentrate on personalised contacts with voters, direct door-to-door calls and other approaches.

Donald Trump, who has not participated in any of the traditional Republican TV debates so far, but is considered a favourite as a Republican nominee, continues to lead the race in Iowa by a large margin. This has also raised questions among Republicans about potential Vice Presidential candidates — the running mates, to use the jargon — who together with Trump would enter the battleground to claim the President’s office.

Ramaswamy, who made some flattering comments about Trump, is reportedly also being considered, along with others, as a potential running mate to Trump, though Ramaswamy had ruled himself out in one previous interview. It remains to be seen if he would change his mind, if he is indeed offered that position and if Trump, who faces a plethora of court cases, does emerge as the Republican nominee.

But Ramaswamy’s impetuous and, sometimes, repugnant statements are also not appreciated by Republican supporters with some calling him an attention-grabber presenting sensational and unrealistic views, detached from political realities. For instance, he claimed — falsely — that the agenda of climate change, an issue that is seen as a major calamity threatening mankind, is a hoax.

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Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotech executive with substantial wealth, aims to revitalize his waning 2024 Republican presidential campaign by achieving a more robust performance than anticipated in the Iowa caucus on January 15. This event marks the initial state Republican nominating contest

Then there is the so-called “Ramaswamy bombshell”: he was going to shut down the FBI to “end the weaponization of police power” in the US. Experts, unnerved by such a possibility, rushed to warn that shutting down the FBI could impede state criminal investigations and affect other critical resources it provides.

He also said he would shut down the Department of Education and redistribute the money back to parents. Ramaswamy would aim to achieve an annual GDP growth exceeding 5%, an extremely difficult target in highly developed economies.

Suffice to say that most of Ramaswamy’s ideas are unrealistic and unlikely to appeal to the voters.

Desi vs Desi

We now turn to Nikki Haley who garnered sympathies among Republicans in the last debate after Ramaswamy verbally clobbered her. Indeed, Haley’s performance in the debate, buoyed by an outpouring of sympathy because of Ramaswamy’s outburst, earned favourable ratings while Ramaswamy was the least impressive of the four participants, according to several polls.

After her impressive performance during the fourth debate, Haley’s prospect of making further gains seemed to have come under a cloud following her ill-considered comment about the cause of the Civil War. At a New Hampshire gathering, Haley had said that the cause of the Civil War was “basically how government was going to run, the freedoms, and what people could and couldn’t do”. She failed to mention slavery.

She was severely criticised for this omission. Later, after the damage was done, she acknowledged at a town-hall meeting in Iowa recently, just days before the Iowa caucus in the first Republican presidential nominating contest, that “I should have said slavery, but in my mind, that’s a given that everybody associates the Civil War with slavery”.

Haley was also booed in Iowa because she had said earlier in Milford, New Hampshire, before a large audience that while “Iowa starts it, you know that you (New Hampshire) correct it”, an implicit elevation of New Hampshire over Iowa. She was severely criticised both in Iowa and also outside it, with Republican critics calling her “RINO” (Republican in name only!).

While there are some who believe that she would make a good running mate — also because a woman running mate would appeal to female voters — there are others who bitterly oppose her, with the former President son, Donald Trump Jr, telling Newsmax that If his father won the Republican presidential nomination, he (Donald Trump Jr) would go to “great lengths” to ensure that Haley was not given the ticket, arguing that her tendencies toward globalism and American interventionism in foreign conflicts made her untenable.

While it is difficult to expect a Desi (South Asian extraction) getting the Republican nomination as a Presidential candidate, one of the two Desis could possibly be offered the position of a running mate to Donald Trump despite the strong opposition. But right now, the water in the pond is muddy, and the coming weeks would, hopefully, produce some clarity.

Manik Mehta in a New York-based journalist specialising in foreign affairs, diplomacy and the UN