By Keaton Peters, The Texas Tribune
“GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy draws hundreds of young conservatives at UT-Austin event” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy visited Texas on Thursday, giving a short speech before answering questions from students at the University of Texas at Austin.
The candidate’s visit was a lead up to the campus’ Free Speech Week, which begins Monday with a series of debates and panels on issues such as First Amendment rights and vaccine mandates.
“The best measure of the health of American democracy is the percentage of people who feel free to say what we actually think in public,” Ramaswamy said. “Right now we are doing poorly.”
Ramaswamy, a businessman from Ohio who founded a biotech and pharmaceutical company before becoming an author and media personality, spoke to a packed crowd at UT’s Hogg Auditorium.
Ramaswamy laid out his prognosis that America is “in the middle of a kind of war” crippling the nation in which a “culture of fear has replaced our culture of free speech and open debate.”
In a crowded Republican primary field, Ramaswamy’s grandiose rhetoric and status as a political outsider has made him more closely aligned with former President Donald Trump than the rest of the GOP contenders. As the youngest candidate running for the party’s presidential nomination, Ramaswamy is leaning on his appeal to young voters. More than 50 students rushed to form a line behind two microphones to ask questions following the candidate’s short speech.
Less than 24 hours after the event was announced on Wednesday, the university moved it from a smaller space to the 1,000-seat auditorium, according to emails from the McCombs School of Business.
Despite his apparent popularity among young Republicans on campus, Ramaswamy faces an uphill battle to win the Republican nomination. In most national polls, he hovers around 4-9% of the vote, placing third behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, according to polling aggregate site FiveThirtyEight. In Texas, the most recent statewide polling of Republican candidates has him in fifth garnering only 3% of those polled.
With three months until voting starts in Iowa on Jan. 15 and another month and a half before the Texas primary on March 5, Ramaswamy appeared confident that he was going to be elected President. “I’m not a plan B person,” he said to roaring applause.
Ramaswamy responded to a question about his debate performances saying the other Republican nominees are “good people tainted by a broken system,” and he called them “puppets of the donor class establishment that actually runs the show in both parties.”
On issues of foreign policy, Ramaswamy doubled down on his position that the U.S. should not be aiding Ukraine in its defense against Russia – a position that puts him at odds with many Republicans. But he saved his most scathing criticism for China.
“We are dependent on our adversary for our way of life,” Ramaswamy said. He went on to accuse China of releasing “hell on the world” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On climate change, Ramaswamy said the U.S. should be extracting more fossil fuels instead of cutting down on carbon emissions. In a discussion on mental health, he also said prisons are currently the largest mental health care providers, and suggested the U.S. should invest in more psychiatric facilities.
Ramaswamy received a warm welcome from a crowd of mostly young conservatives. After the event concluded, several students said they do not agree with all of Ramaswamy’s positions, but his appeal as a presidential candidate lies more in his age and attitude.
Ramaswamy, 38, is the son of Indian immigrants. He came to prominence as the author of ‘Woke, Inc.’, a book that criticizes diversity equity and inclusion initiatives.
“He doesn’t try to filter things,” said Bilvanilay Valsulabharanam, a freshman who is studying business. Ramaswamy “said what I’ve been having in my mind for a long time.”
In appealing to a sense of unity and yearning for a stronger shared national identity, Ramaswamy also appealed to some students who do not follow politics, such as Jeevana Gottipati, a freshman public health major.
“He can relate to us more,” because he is younger, and his emphasis on speaking up about unpopular opinions is “advice that you can relate to on a non-political level,” Gottipati said.
Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Austin – McCombs School of Business have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/10/12/vivek-ramaswamy-gop-presidential-election-ut/.
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