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The “I would simply ...” candidate

Vivek Ramaswamy says he would simply just solve America’s tough problems.

Vivek Ramaswamy turning and smiling in a crowd.
Vivek Ramaswamy in the spin room following the Republican primary presidential debate hosted by Fox News in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 23, 2023.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

At last week’s Republican presidential debate, the moderators asked whether Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing in refusing Donald Trump’s demands that he try to overturn Joe Biden’s victory when Congress counted the electoral votes on January 6, 2021. Six of the eight candidates present said Pence did the right thing. A seventh candidate was Pence himself. Vivek Ramaswamy, the remaining candidate onstage, was not directly asked.

It was a potentially difficult question for Ramaswamy, who has recently risen to third place in national polls but has studiously avoided breaking from Trump in any high-profile way. So on Sunday, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked him directly: Did Pence do the right thing?

Ramaswamy offered a response of blithe bullshittery that epitomizes why he’s gained in GOP primary polls lately, why so many of his fellow GOP candidates can’t stand him, and why Democrats view his rise as a sign of the worrying authoritarian drift of the GOP. In other words, his answer had something for everyone.

While not endorsing Trump’s specific claim that the 2020 election was stolen — a claim that Ramaswamy, before launching his campaign, wrote was “weak” and not “grounded in fact” — he nevertheless said that Pence should have somehow forced Democrats to agree to a sweeping national overhaul of election rules as a prerequisite for letting Biden’s win go forward.

On the website formerly known as Twitter, there’s long been a running joke where the tweeter claims “I would simply” do something that is actually extremely difficult. (“If i ever fell in some quicksand i would simply thrash around until i was out. it’s that simple,” was the first version.) Vivek Ramaswamy is the “I would simply ...” candidate in the 2024 race. Our nation’s most challenging issues? Well, he’d simply solve them, unlike those other louts.

What Vice President Vivek Ramaswamy supposedly would have done on January 6

Ramaswamy began his response to the question of what Pence should have done by stating, “I think that there was a historic opportunity that he missed to unite the country.” Specifically, he went on, Pence should have demanded a new federal law that states require “single-day voting on Election Day,” mandatory paper ballots, and voter ID.

How should Pence have made that happen? Simple — he would have led! “In my capacity as president of the Senate, I would have led through that level of reform, then on that condition certified the election results, served it up to the president — President Trump — then to sign that into law,” Ramaswamy said. Who could object?

Of course, many red states across the country have lengthy mail and early voting periods because Republicans are well aware that they have not resulted in significant fraud. Also of course, the vice president’s role in ordinary Senate business is essentially limited to casting tie-breaking votes, and on January 6, the Constitution tells him only to “open all the certificates” of electoral votes.

But if we take Ramaswamy seriously (a questionable choice, but let’s go with it), he’s claiming he would have tried to strong-arm Congress into submitting and passing his preferred election proposal, saying he’d reject Biden’s victory unless they complied. The idea that such a move would have “united” the country rather than throwing it into a deeper crisis seems obviously false.

Throughout his campaign, Ramaswamy has made proposals of dubious legality and practicality. For instance, he’s said he’ll simply fire “at least half” of federal employees in violation of the law and that he’ll just make broad claims of presidential power and hope the Supreme Court declines to stop him. On foreign policy, he’s said he would simply turn Russia against China (despite the two nations’ claims of a “no limits” partnership). To deal with Chinese designs on Taiwan, he’s said he’ll guarantee a US military response only until America is no longer reliant on Taiwan to manufacture semiconductors — which he says he’ll accomplish by 2028. Simple!

In response, experts pull their hair out, established politicians (like his debate stage rivals) complain it’s not so simple, and journalists write tut-tutting fact-checks. But so long as all this sounds enough like “common sense” to GOP primary voters, Ramaswamy won’t be hurt in the polls and may even be helped, since many of those voters wouldn’t trust experts or journalists anyway.

All of that surely sounds familiar, since Trump has long followed a similar playbook of promising big with little regard to what was plausible or made sense. But where Trump’s talk often came off as half-serious showman bluster, Ramaswamy is more the high-achieving millennial who’s crammed for the test and come up with a superficially smart-sounding but ultimately vapid answer. Both have the same goal: to try to get one over on you.

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