A standoff between a brash Vivek Ramaswamy and a circumspect Nikki Haley in first Republican primary debate

By Mayank Chhaya-

It is remarkable that 25 percent presence in the first Republican presidential primary out of eight on Wednesday night will be constituted by two candidates of Indian descent—former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Add to that the fact that at about 4.4 million Indian Americans constitute barely 1.35 percent of the U.S. population. The presence of Haley and Ramaswamy in the debate is punching far above the Indian American community’s demographic and cultural weight.

In the absence of former President Donald Trump, besieged by four indictments and choosing to skip the debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the top-polling candidate. Despite the presence of former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ramaswamy has emerged as a likely second plum target. This is notwithstanding that his ideological compatriot Haley announced her candidacy much earlier than him.

Calling himself “a George Washington America First conservative”, Ramaswamy has made himself into a preferred target of DeSantis whose own campaign has floundered recently. The brash 38-year-old multimillionaire is currently enjoying considerable traction within the primary field even as Haley, 13 years his senior, remains iffy at best so far.

In and of itself it is historic that there are two Indian American presidential candidates on the primary debate stage for the for the first time. Of course, it is still very early days to say where either of them might end up as the primary season heats up in the next several months and Trump’s serious legal peril begins to play out.

While Haley has conducted a rather circumspect of campaign so far, Ramaswamy has gone all out saying things that he has calculated would excite some of the same base that Trump lords over. For instance, confounding many he raked up the September 11, 2001, attacks by telling the Atlantic magazine this: ‘I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers. Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right? I have no reason to think it was anything other than zero. But if we’re doing a comprehensive assessment of what happened on 9/11, we have a 9/11 commission, absolutely [that] should be an answer the public knows the answer to.’”

In an earlier interview to a right-wing media outlet, he was quoted as saying this about 9/11: “I don’t believe the government has told us the truth. Again, I’m driven by evidence and data. What I’ve seen in the last several years is we have to be skeptical of what the government does tell us. I haven’t seen evidence to the contrary, but do I believe everything the government told us about it? Absolutely not. Do I believe the 9/11 Commission? Absolutely not.”

He was asked by Kaitlan Collins, anchor of CNN’s “The Source”, about that and to which he said he “of course” does not believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

It is assertions and comments such as these coupled with his controversial views about gender politics, woke movement and race relations which have propelled his campaign beyond Haley’s.

On August 21, he tweeted a video of himself playing tennis shirtless saying, “Three hours of solid debate prep this morning.” Today he did another one of him vigorously exercising in a gym.

Unlike Haley, who was born to a Sikh family but converted to Christianity, Ramaswamy is avowedly Hindu who does rounds of Hindu temples in home state of Ohio.

Wednesday’s debate is Ramaswamy’s chance as is that of Haley to produce some standout moments in a field where the 800-pound gorilla presence looming is that of an embattled Trump. In a sense it is a standoff between a brash Ramaswamy and a circumspect Haley.

Haley and Ramaswamy

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