Ramaswamy’s dilemma: Why support the America First 2.0 candidate when Trump’s in the 2024 race?

Vivek Ramaswamy, on his key difference with Donald Trump, highlights that ‘I’m young. I have fresh legs’

CONCORD, N.H. – Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy returns to New Hampshire on Wednesday to formally place his name on the ballot in the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP nominating calendar.

Ramaswamy, a 38-year-old multimillionaire biotech entrepreneur and first-time candidate, has been one of the biggest surprises in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race.

In a Republican Party dominated by the former President Donald Trump, Ramaswamy is Trump’s most loyal defender in the large field of GOP presidential contenders.

Ramaswamy, who campaigns on an “America First 2.0” agenda, reiterated to reporters last weekend that “I think there are two America First candidates in this race. That’s Donald Trump and myself. Everybody else comes from an old-school vision of neo-conservatism that is long outdated, and that is not where our party or our base is.”

But unfortunately for the candidate aiming to be Trump’s heir apparent, the former president isn’t going anywhere. In fact, Trump remains commanding front-runner in the GOP nomination race as he makes his third straight White House run.

“[Ramaswamy] is the biggest surprise,” longtime New Hampshire-based Republican consultant Mike Dennehy told. “He’s charismatic, and he’s putting in the time in New Hampshire. I think that’s benefited him.”

But Dennehy added that “there’s no doubt in my mind that he has a very limited ceiling because of his consistent support of Donald Trump.”

“Why would someone want the Trump supporter when they can have Trump himself?” Dennehy said.

While lots of voters who have attended Ramaswamy events in recent months in Iowa and New Hampshire have said they are likely to back the candidate, plenty of others have told they remain committed to Trump.

Ramaswamy has repeatedly called Trump the “most successful president in our century.”

When the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, last year in search of classified federal documents, Ramaswamy had Trump’s back.

This year, Trump has been indicted four times — including in federal court in Washington, D.C., and in Fulton County Superior Court in Georgia on charges he tried to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss — making him the first former or current president in American history to be indicted for a crime. Throughout Trump’s legal challenges, Ramaswamy has been one of his biggest defenders, taking aim at what he argued was a weaponized Department of Justice.

At the first GOP presidential nomination debate in August — which Trump skipped — Ramaswamy pledged to pardon the former president if elected to the White House.

Ramaswamy last month headed to the Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute in the nation’s capital to deliver a major policy address. And on the 2024 trail, two of his top advisers in New Hampshire are veterans of Trump’s first two presidential campaigns.

It’s not a total love fest. Ramaswamy has taken some swipes at Trump this year.

“I think I can go further than Trump,” he highlighted in an interview in Iowa in April.

“I give Trump credit for going as far as he did. I think he went about as far as he was going to go. I’m taking this to the next level,” Ramaswamy argued.

Referring to Trump, Ramaswamy offered that “maybe eight years from now I’ll be jaded, cynical, tired and defeated, too. But today I’m ready to actually carry that torch forward and to me, it’s about taking that America First agenda to the next level.”

Last month, he criticized Trump for failing to follow through on his pledge to repeal and replace sweeping health care law implemented by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

“I am never somebody who will make a false promise,” Ramaswamy emphasized.

Ramaswamy saw his poll numbers edge up during the winter and spring, but his standing in the national polls and crucial early state surveys appears to have flatlined recently.

Asked this past weekend if he peaked too early, Ramaswamy shot back, “Far from it.”

“I’m confident we’re going to be successful, and frankly I think it’s going to take somebody coming from the outside and from a different generation to graduate from the politics of yesterday,” he added.

Dennehy sees Ramaswamy’s age as a key differentiator from Trump, calling it his “main distinguishing factor.”

“I have something unique in my case. I’m young. I have fresh legs… I think fresh legs matter… I think being a leader from the next generation is a special advantage I have to reach the next generation of Americans,” Ramaswamy said Saturday.

And he argued that the polls aren’t capturing his support.

“We’re building connections with the people who show up at events,” Ramaswamy said.

He reiterated that “the people who are coming to our events both in Iowa and New Hampshire are disproportionately people who have never participated in a caucus or a primary. So I think the polls miss that fact. If we’re able to bring those people and people like them out, I feel like we have a very clear path to victory that’s not at all being captured in the polls, precisely because we’re picking up people who have not all viewed themselves as traditional Republicans.”

Pointing to the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, Ramaswamy said, “I do think we’re setting up for a big surprise that’s going to be delivered in mid-January.”