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The Ukraine War, Chris Christie, and Vivek Ramaswamy. Part II.
Until recently, I would have thought Vivek Ramaswamy too insignificant to be worth remark. But if recent polls are to be taken seriously—there’s reason to wonder—he’s now the GOP frontrunner.
Yes, if you assume that between now and Iowa, GOP voters will reconsider the wisdom of electing a man who will have to govern from a federal penitentiary. Or if you assume that Donald Trump has an imminent appointment in Samarra. Apart from Chris Christie, all of the other candidates do appear to be assuming this, because otherwise, their campaigns make no sense—unless they’re all running for the vice presidency, or running to help them transition to new careers as cable news hosts. Christie is the only one running against Trump, who remains the prohibitive frontrunner.
Smart money says Ramaswamy is a momentary distraction, like Andrew Yang, and when it truly dawns on the MAGA base that Ramaswamy worships cows, that will be that. (Videos of Ramaswamy explaining Hinduism to the MAGA faithful make for exquisite comedy.)
That said, I once believed the heartland would never vote for a man who is a human incarnation of all seven deadly sins, but it did. So I don’t, actually, think Republican voters are too parochial to elect a man who worships a different God, or hundreds of them, as the case may be. My worry is the opposite: I figure they’d elect Big Bird if he promised to put Hunter Biden, Lia Thomas, and the CEO of Pfizer on a rocket and shoot them straight into the sun. So what if he was hatched. He knows what time it is.
Figures like Ramaswamy are one of the many predictable, baleful consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency. By demonstrating that you need not in any way be qualified to be the president of the United States, nor need you have any relevant experience, nor need you know how the US government works, nor need you know anything about its history, nor need you be informed about policy, nor need you have intelligible plans, nor need you be decent, nor honest, nor even sane, Donald Trump ensured we will forevermore see parades of chancers like Vivek Ramaswamy—men who think, “If he can be the President of the United States, why can’t I?”
When I saw the recent polls, I began taking this seriously. Accidents do happen. If Trump were to choke on his overcooked hamburger, all bets would be off. It’s not unimaginable that Ramaswamy could then win the primary. I fear that after four years of Trump and four more of Biden, Ramaswamy’s youth, and his ability to produce something like recognizable human speech, will see him heralded as our Cicero. Owing to the peculiarities of our election system and Biden’s weakness, anyone who wins the GOP nomination has an even chance of winning the presidency. If he’s not a billion years old and not named “Trump,” I’d guess his chances are better than even.
But this oily charlatan cannot be the President of the United States. His candidacy is just another insult to us all.
Let me show you why.
Ramaswamy is an unlikely standard for the forgotten men and women of working class America. Literally a Brahmin, he graduated from Harvard and Yale, where he was the recipient of a handsome Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.1 He then made his fortune as a hedge fund analyst and pharma bro. He made partner at QVT Financial at the age of 28, then left to found Roivant Sciences, based in Switzerland and incorporated in Bermuda.
Roivant—the “Roi” stands for “return on investment”—has never been profitable, but Wall Street loves it and that’s why Ramaswamy is rich: He owns a lot of stock. He put his mother and brother on the payroll, and they too have half a million stock options each.
The purpose of Roivant is to look for Big Pharma’s candidate-drug discards. If they think a drug was abandoned prematurely, they buy the rights and try to develop it themselves. Ramaswamy quickly raised US$1.1 billion for the company in a funding round led by Japan’s Softbank. (All of this is almost too delicious to be true. If, as MAGA devotees believe, an occult society of globalist elites rule the world and invented Covid so better to inject them with microchips, Vivek Ramaswamy is surely the most cherished son of the covenant.)
To do this, especially at his age and with no track record, you have to be a good salesman—and clearly he is. But Roivant’s record is mixed. It bet big on an Alzheimer’s candidate that flopped. Some aspects of this story are a bit eyebrow-raising. Some people took a bath because they took Vivek’s hype too seriously. A few schoolteachers lost their pensions. Still, that’s life. Don’t bet what you can’t afford to lose. The story is not in Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos territory. (Although it’s not a good thing that those were the names that came to mind when I read about it.)
Fortune is excoriating about his business record:
… Despite bragging that he is not “beholden to donor masters” thanks to his fortune, virtually all of Ramaswamy’s companies operate in the red, and none have ever turned a profit consistently. His flagship holding company, Roivant, has never once turned a profit since going public, losing US$433 million in 2020, US$698 million in 2021, and a whopping US$1.12 billion in 2022, with Bloomberg predicting another US$1.03 billion in losses in 2023.
So in 2021, Ramaswamy founded Strive Asset Management, which styles itself as the antidote to socially responsible investing. Strive may be irresponsible, but it is not cheap: BlackRock ETFs, notes Fortune, usually charge about 0.03 percent in fees; Strive charges as much as 0.41 percent.
All the evidence, out in the open, shows that Strive has had a hard time attracting additional investor inflows beyond its original anchor investors after the launch of its ETFs last year. Its assets under management appear to have stagnated despite Ramaswamy’s loud media presence. … Fully half of Strive’s eight current ETF products—including the Strive 1000 Growth ETF, the Strive 1000 Value ETF, the Strive 1000 Dividend Growth ETF, and the Strive Small-Cap ETF—have less than US$12 million assets under management each, which is microscopic relative to the industry standard—and less than the average compensation of a single major CEO at most companies.
Thus it is hardly surprising that some of the most admired CEOs are flippantly swatting away Strive’s attempts at “activism.” Ramaswamy has become the court jester of corporate governance. The mere mention of his name brings anything from smirks to outright gales of laughter amongst some corporate audiences. … Perhaps this helps explain why Ramaswamy is running his long shot Presidential campaign: Nothing turns around sagging business fortunes quite like a new burst of free publicity!
Ramaswamy quickly wrote several books to promote his ideas about governance, all of which, if implemented, would explicitly serve his financial interests. He wishes, for example, on “day one,” to abolish the FDA. Given the kind of intellectual property Roivant is sitting on, the announcement of the FDA’s demise would obviously boost the price of its shares.2 That his policy proposals would redound to his financial benefit doesn’t mean they’re bad ideas. But it’s a conflict of interest, to be sure, and one that has so far escaped the notice of the journalists who cover him. They’re too dazzled, I suppose, by his fluent command of the clichés of the war on wokism, which I presume he mastered on the grounds that when one’s constituents are cannibals, one should offer them missionaries for dinner. Until now, anyway, journalists have seen him as a sideshow. They like that he’s able to rap Eminem’s greatest hits.
Ramaswamy was a nationally ranked junior tennis player. He is, apparently, an accomplished pianist. He graduated from Yale in 2013—in other words, he’s only been out of school for a decade. Since then, he and his wife have been raising two small children. So it’s not surprising, with all the companies he’s been running and drugs he’s been discovering and money he’s been making, that he’s been too busy to learn much about American foreign policy or the wider world. No one charitable would fault him for not knowing much about either.
Except that he’s running to be the president.
We’re used to it, now, the idea of the president as a complete ignoramus. But we shouldn’t be. We have defined political deviancy so far down that we now blithely accept displays of ignorance that should end a candidacy on the spot. Do you remember when, on the debate stage, in 2015, Donald Trump astonished and terrified the world by revealing he’d never heard of the nuclear triad?
That at least, made headlines around the world. Only a few short years ago, it was still surprising that a candidate for the presidency of the United States couldn’t place the phrase “nuclear triad.” Mind you, at that stage, most of the world still thought this was all a big practical joke—those wacky Americans!—and of course we wouldn’t really give a man who couldn’t tell you what the triad was the power to launch one of those bad boys.
Hugh Hewitt was the debate moderator who asked Trump that question, launching a thousand late-night skits and causing men and women in chancelleries the world around to shift uneasily in their chairs and whisper to each other, “They wouldn’t really, would they?”
Now, suppose you were serious about becoming the President of the United States in 2024. And suppose Hugh Hewitt invited you on his show to discuss your views on foreign policy. If you were a remotely serious person, wouldn’t you ask yourself, “Should I sound better-informed than Donald Trump—or worse?” Even if for some reason you were living with your head under a rock in 2016 and didn’t remember the infamous exchange that caused American allies to blanch and reach for their Xanax, surely you’d hire at least one competent campaign professional who’d remember that question for you and tip you off?
And if you were running on the promise to make every American under the age of 25 pass a civics test to vote, wouldn’t you be slightly concerned to show that you understand the powers the American president possesses? Such as the power to melt the whole goddamned planet?
Who the hell does this kid think he is? He’s running for president? He’s so lazy he doesn’t even bother to hire someone to tell him that Hugh Hewitt is going to ask him about this? He thinks he’ll turn “learning on the job” about the command and the control of our nuclear forces into a podcast?3
This is everything wrong with politics in America. There is only thing one thing worse than his belief that he’s qualified, by virtue of his ignorance and inexperience, to be the most powerful man in the world—and that is the Americans who agree with him.
And oh, it gets worse.
Yep, that’s the dream ticket, alright. The express path to national unity. Do recall that Vivek is smart enough to know perfectly well that RFK Jr. is getting kids killed with his anti-vax asininity.
But now let’s be serious. Recall the problems we were discussing yesterday—problems the young President Ramaswamy would face from his first day in office. The Russian soldiers executing peaceful Ukrainian civilians after raping and mutilating them. The mass graves. The ghastly mobile crematoria. The ecological catastrophe caused by Russia’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam—the flooded homes, the drowning animals. Columns of Russian tanks on Ukrainian roads. Missile and bomb strikes on Ukrainians homes. The deaths of children, daily. The kidnappings of thousands upon thousands more—children, taken from their parents—and their parents desperate attempts to find out if their children are even still alive. The endless bombing of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, plunging Ukrainians, over and over, into the darkness and the cold. The torture chambers. The castrations. The executions of prisoners of war. The obliteration from the sky of the Mariupol theater, where women and children sought refuge from the bombings—a building where the word “children” was written in Russian, in giant letters, on the roof. A population displacement not seen in Europe since the Second World War, with eight million Ukrainians—90 percent of them women and children—scattered in exile across Europe’s violated borders. Global famine, because Russia is using starvation as a negotiating ploy. A lunatic superpower, in the grip of fantastic Stalinist delusions, threatening to invade our allies and incinerate us all. All of this has, actually, been in the news, but I suppose campaigning is busy work.
This is a serious question: Does Vivek Ramaswamy know what NATO is? Is he familiar with the story of the Second World War? Does he know why NATO was founded? Does he understand that Europe ceased to be the world’s leading exporter of violence because we defeated the Nazis, stripped Europe of full sovereignty, and subordinated it? Does he understand that in exchange, we assumed responsibility for Europe’s security through the NATO Treaty? Does he understand that this is why he grew up in a world that was so peaceful, prosperous, and protected that someone like him—a graduate of America’s finest universities—could have no idea what “war in Europe” means? Does he know the story of Hitler’s rise, or Chamberlain and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia? The Munich Conference? Has he ever heard the words, “a quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing?” Or “Peace in our time?” Has he thought about them? Do they mean a thing to him?
Does he grasp that a Russian victory in Ukraine would mean that our NATO allies would fall next?
Because a man who had any familiarity with that—and who was serious about becoming the president of the United States—wouldn’t say this, would he?
No—you puffed-up, pompous, ridiculous little tech dweeb. You are frantically bullshitting. You know it and I know it. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re so laughably unqualified for the job you seek that in any previous era, you wouldn’t have dreamt of embarrassing us all this way. But because of Trump, we have to take you seriously—even though you’re stratospherically unserious.
You learned everything you know about American foreign policy from Russia Today, Tucker Carlson, and Elon Musk’s Twitter feed. This makes you a fraud. And because displays like this hearten Vladimir Putin—encouraging him in the belief that he need but wait for our election, when a diabolus ex machina like you will save him—you are also a menace.
Oh, and by the way, Burisma is not a “Ukrainian state-affiliated” company.
There is ignorance, and then there is ignominy. On August 1, Bari Weiss hosted Ramaswamy on her podcast. “Let’s talk about foreign policy,” she suggested brightly.
Bari: On Ukraine, the consensus position, among establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans is very clear. Russia has waged an unprovoked war of aggression against their neighboring country. And the US, both from a moral and a strategic perspective, has to support Ukraine. Why is that view wrong?
Vivek: [Deep, pretentious sigh.] So much to say here. Okay, so first of all, just as table stakes for having the discussion I think we need to abandon the fiction that Ukraine is some model, a paragon of democracy. It is not. This is a country where you have a leader who has banned eleven opposition parties. You have a leader who is fundamentally corrupt. You have a government that’s fundamentally corrupt. You have a client state of the, you know—effectively the United states is the client, literally, our taxpayers are paying the money of Ukrainian officials in the government, I believe in part, at least, making good on a corrupt bribe paid to the person who is making those decisions from the Oval Office today, in the form of Joe Biden. I think you have a guy who has consolidated, in the form of Zelensky, state media, all media into one state media arm. So we just have to abandon the fiction that this is some paragon of democracy—a guy who’s going after—
Bari: [Taken aback] I don’t think you need, to have the view that Ukraine deserves American strategic and moral support—I don’t think that that view at all relies on a caricature of Ukraine—
Vivek: Well I think you did say something about it standing on the right side and, and, and invoked the moral argument for the establishment view—
Bari: No, I said that Russia’s waging an unprovoked war against Ukraine, and the US, from a moral and strategic perspective—I’m not saying it’s a paragon of democracy, I’m saying in comparison to Putin’s Russia, how could you not be on the side of Ukraine?
Vivek: I was—all I was doing there, it wasn’t even the heart of my answer, but I was just responding to the invocation of the word moral in there. I think these are two thugs sorting out differences in Eastern Europe.
Bari: You think there’s a moral equivalence between Zelensky and Putin?
Vivek: I don’t think that there is an obvious moral superiority that Zelensky has compared to many other autocrats around the world who we would put on the side of evil and I do not think this is a battle of good versus evil. And, as I take the moral valence out of it, I think the valence that I bring to this is, “What advances American interests,” and there I think we have room for reasonable debate.
This is disgusting.
“Take the moral valence out of it?” “Two thugs sorting out differences in Eastern Europe?”
Why is he, an American citizen, spreading this nonsense? Does he understand why those parties were banned? (Of course he doesn’t.) Does he have any evidence that Vlodymir Zelensky is corrupt at all, no less “fundamentally corrupt?” (Of course he doesn’t.) Does he believe that Ukraine is so “fundamentally corrupt” that its four-year-old girls should be gang-raped by Russian soldiers in front of their parents?
Go on, take the “moral valence” out of that, Vivek.
Vivek, listen to this, if your busy schedule permits. It will give you a head start on that crash course on foreign policy you propose to undertake in the Oval Office.
Something familiar about that rhetoric, isn’t there? He must sound like a sensible fellow to you. A lot of people thought so at the time, too.
If you’re curious to learn the whole story, you can read about it at the Holocaust Museum. (You might want to visit that museum one of these days. I’m keen to know how you assess the “moral valence” of those events.) But I have to warn you: History was not kind to Charles Lindbergh.
I’m too tired now—and frankly, too angry—to explicate the flaws in Vivek’s Big Bright Peace Plan, which he has posted (fittingly) on Twitter. Perhaps this reader’s response is all that’s really required:
But I think I’ll first get some sleep, and tomorrow calmly show you the problems with his plan, line by line. Because he’s probably just a joke who can’t possibly win, as most people seem to think.
But that’s what we thought about Trump.
Reportedly, he paid for his connection to Soros to be scrubbed from his Wikipedia page. He says this is “distorted.” If it’s true, it’s really ungrateful. They gave him a lot of money, when he needed it, to go to school. He also sued the World Economic Forum—and won—for naming him on their list of “young global leaders.”
Whether Americans really want to ingest drugs that haven’t been approved by the FDA is not obvious to me, given how dubious they are about vaccines that the FDA has rigorously assessed. It’s an open question.