Who is Vivek Ramaswamy, the youngest candidate at the GOP debate? He spoke to The NPR Politics Podcast about his political identity as a nationalist and expanding Donald Trump's "America First" message to a new audience.

Who is Vivek Ramaswamy, the 38-year-old entrepreneur and GOP presidential hopeful?

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Thirty-seven-year-old entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is running for president as a Republican. Born in Ohio to parents who emigrated from India, he says he can expand on Donald Trump's America-first message.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY: I will unapologetically embrace and advance the ideals that this nation was founded on. I believe that we ought to be willing to make a sacrifice to advance those ideals, to fight to advance those ideals. And I believe that maybe you would classify me as a nationalist, if you have to use a label. I think it's a label I'm willing to wear.

MARTÍNEZ: He spoke to Susan Davis and Asma Khalid of the NPR Politics Podcast and said that many people place too much emphasis on race and sexual identity.


RAMASWAMY: I grew up into a generation where I was taught - we were all taught, I think - to believe that diversity is our strength. I reject that vision. I don't think our diversity is our strength. I think our strength is what unites us across that diversity. That is not America to me. I mean, it's the America I see sometimes today. But it's not the America I know. It's not the America that I learned to pledge allegiance to as a kid. That America is grounded on a set of ideals that brought us together. And measured across the backdrop of common ideals, yes, our diversity can be a beautiful thing. But without that, it's a meaningless physical attribute.

And so that's what bothers me about it is I think that it calls on us to see one another as less than the full humans that we really are, when we see one another instead as bound by a common set of ideals, and even when we disagree about how to apply those ideals, that we're able to debate them in the open with full respect for one another as fully thinking, autonomous human beings. That's what actually allows the American lifeblood to revive itself rather than to be lost in this identitarian dilemma that we now find ourselves in.

SUSAN DAVIS: Let's talk about some of the issues that are important to both Republican primary voters and the country as a whole. But let's start here, Mr. Ramaswamy. Do you believe that Joe Biden was the lawfully elected president in 2020?

RAMASWAMY: I think that in the technical sense of that word, he's obviously the lawfully elected president. I think that in a deeper sense, I'm deeply bothered by, for example, the Hunter Biden laptop-story suppression that really was in the name of suppressing misinformation - actually created misinformation - across the news media and all the boards. I have a lot of issues with the suppression of information by social media companies and the internet companies that led up to that election. And do I believe that there's - I mean, it's not a dispute. So I think that's a problem. But in the technical sense of do I think that there was large-scale ballot fraud or whatever that changed the election outcome based on how the votes were counted, I have seen no evidence of that.

ASMA KHALID: I want to ask you about an issue that was key in the minds of many voters during these most recent midterms, and that's abortion. Would you sign further abortion restrictions into federal law?

RAMASWAMY: I would not, but I am pro-life. For years, I was an opponent of Roe v. Wade. I think it was constitutionally wrongly decided. I think Dobbs was correct to overturn it because the federal government has no business here. Murder laws are governed by the states. So if abortion is a form of murder, which is the pro-life position, and I am pro-life, then it would make no sense for that to be the one law that was still governed at the federal level. But a federal ban violates the constitutional principle that led us to actually overturn Roe v. Wade, which is why I would not sign a federal abortion ban.

KHALID: Mr. Ramaswamy, you know, in terms of prepping for this interview, I was listening to a lot of interviews you've done, reading through other reports. And one of the takeaways that I had is that it seems you want to make a number of decisions unilaterally. For example, abolishing the Department of Education, shutting down the FBI, deploying troops to the U.S. border, ending affirmative action. So the question I have is, do you see any limits on the power of the presidency?

RAMASWAMY: Of course. It's called the Constitution. And so let's take the last one of ending affirmative action by executive order. The reason why I say that is it was created by executive order. So I'm just talking about rescinding an old executive order, Lyndon Johnson's Executive Order 11246, which requires anyone who does business with the federal government to actually adopt, effectively, race-based quota systems. I'll end that by executive order.

So I'm a careful student of the Constitution. I think there are certain things the president can and ought to do without asking Congress for permission or forgiveness. I think running the executive branch of the government is on that list. There are many things like, for example, my position to make political expression a civil right. I'd love to do that. But a president can't do that without actually working through Congress.

And then there's things that the federal government, both the president and Congress, shouldn't be doing that should be left to the states. This is actually where abortion discussion came in. And so I think it's important to have a clear-eyed constitutional perspective of what falls into each category. I believe that I do, and I will govern accordingly.

DAVIS: You've also proposed a change to the Constitution - at least one. You're promoting raising the voting age to be 25. It seems like a difficult pitch to win over young voters in this country. Why did you make that decision?

RAMASWAMY: Well, I want to be precise about what I actually said. So I would support a constitutional amendment. This would require widespread support for an amendment to the Constitution, of course, that would raise the voting age to 25 but still allow you to vote at age 18 if you either serve for six months in the military or a first responder role, or else, even if you don't serve, if you pass the same civics test that every immigrant has to pass in order to become a citizen of this country.

DAVIS: Now you're saying there would be two different thresholds for when you get to vote.

RAMASWAMY: Yes. So we lowered the voting age to 18 in the context of the military draft. That was the justification in 1971 for lowering the voting age. So you're right. You can't do this by law because if it was by law, it would be unconstitutional. But if you're following the constitutional process to amend the Constitution, as we have 27 times over for the better, adding equal protection under the law for race, no discrimination on voting on the basis of race, making the voting age 18, telling - giving women the right to vote. That's a constitutional amendment process.

I think we should go through that constitutional amendment process to attach civic duties to voting. Now, the why, though, that's the more important question. And you asked it. I think we have a loss of civic pride in our country. I think people, young people included, do not value a country that they simply inherit. I think we value a country that we have a stake in building. And I think that asking a young person - asking any citizen - to know something about the country before voting, I think, is a perfectly reasonable condition.

Or else, if you don't know something about the country - we already ask immigrants to know this, by the way, so it's not making up some new test no matter your skin color. If you've been a taxpaying green-card holder for 10 years, you still have to pass that test to vote. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask a young American to do the same thing, or else, if they don't want to do that, to at least serve for six months in the military or first responder role, or else to have some life experience as an adult, at least by the age of 25.

MARTÍNEZ: You can hear more of the conversation with Vivek Ramaswamy today on the NPR Politics Podcast.


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