Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy used Veterans Day weekend to barnstorm across the Granite State, make an impromptu speech at a Merrimack cemetery and roll out new “Rebel Scum” swag in response to Nikki Haley’s debate attack.
He also took the opportunity to attack popular Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, mocking him as a potential “third rate, C List commentator on CNN” whose endorsement would be “the kiss of death” to the First in the Nation candidate he supports.
Political observers say the mix of intellectual debate and provocative rhetoric was classic Ramaswamy, who has spent more time in the Granite State than nearly every other GOP candidate — with the possible exception of Haley.
The biotech mogul, author, and 38-year-old father held a “Lunchbreak with Vivek” at the Angus Lea Golf course in Hillsborough on Saturday, visited a Veteran’s Day celebration, and stopped by VFW Post 1631 in Concord before holding the “Vets for Vivek” Town Hall Forum in Merrimack. On Sunday, Vivek held three more public events.
State Rep. Tim McGough (R-Merrimack), who has endorsed Ramaswamy, said that at the Merrimack cemetery, the candidate was asked by one of the attendees to give an impromptu speech.
“Out of the blue, one of the veterans stepped six feet out of the crowd and said, ‘You know, I’d really like Vivek Ramaswamy to say a few words.’ Couldn’t’ve asked for a better moment.”
Afterward, Ramaswamy called it “a sentimental moment.”
“My son was there; it was the first time he’d been to an event like it, and they had just lowered the flag before raising it, and we talked about what that flag actually symbolizes. It’s not [just] the cloth it’s printed on,” Ramaswamy said.
The Merrimack town hall at Able Ebenezer Brewing was held outdoors with little seating on a chilly autumn night, but the crowd was enthusiastic. Shirley Collins, an undecided voter from Nashua, said it was the first political event she had attended since Ross Perot.
Ramaswamy spoke for 10 minutes before a 50-minute Q&A. The crowd’s energy ramped up throughout the event, and by the time it ended, the atmosphere was as much a rock concert as it was a town hall. Ramaswamy touched on an eclectic range of issues: Ukraine, foreign aid, and climate change, but also returning the U.S. dollar to the gold standard and psychedelics for veterans.
On the latter, Ramaswamy supports limited legalization and rescheduling of some psychedelic drugs for therapeutic use, especially for veterans. He singled out ketamine, which can induce a dissociative state. Ramaswamy has, on several occasions, expressed openness to federal marijuana decriminalization.
Ramaswamy reiterated his deep skepticism of American funding of Ukraine, calling President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “Ukrainian kleptocrat.” That was less harsh than his most recent debate performance in which he said Ukraine “has threatened not to hold elections this year unless the U.S. forks over more money. That is not democratic. It has celebrated a Nazi in its ranks, the comedian in cargo pants, a man called Zelenskyy.”
And Ramaswamy is trying to monetize another notable moment from the debate. He countered Haley’s call for a ban on TikTok by claiming the former South Carolina governor’s own daughter actually used the app for a long time, adding,” So you might want to take care of your family first.”
“You’re just scum,” Haley said in reply. (Haley’s daughter is a married, 25-year-old adult.)
On Saturday, Ramaswamy’s campaign rolled out “Rebel Scum” t-shirts and cozies to capitalize on the exchange.
Ramaswamy’s critique of Ukraine aid is based on his “America First” politics that discourages nearly all foreign aid of any kind. During the town hall, he reiterated his position that America should not give “elective foreign aid to any country whose national debt per citizen is less than ours.” Given that America’s per capita national debt is higher than all but 12 countries — mostly wealthy, smaller nations like Switzerland and Singapore — Ramaswamy’s proposal would end nearly all foreign aid.
Asked about climate change, Ramaswamy acknowledged that surface temperatures have risen, and that increase may be partially manmade. But he rejected the argument that the current pace of rising temperatures is a crisis, pledging that if elected president, one of his “Day One” actions would be an executive order rescinding any requirements for reporting carbon emissions.
Also discussed during the event was America’s abandoning the gold standard. A “mistake,” Ramaswamy said. As an audience member asked him, “Is the dollar about to collapse?” Ramaswamy nodded before suggesting that the dollar be pegged to a basket of commodities, including nickel and gold.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Ramaswamy confirmed that he was moving resources from his national headquarters in Ohio to New Hampshire.
“We’re beefing up on our staff here and on our on-the-ground grassroots operation. Beefing up, as well, on our ability to get out the vote. We’re entering that phase of the campaign.
Ramaswamy, who is viewed by many GOP operatives as a stalking horse for former President Donald Trump, has been a target of criticism from Sununu.
“This last debate was just embarrassing for [Ramaswamy],” Sununu told CNN on Friday. “He just proved that he doesn’t have the temperament for the job. You’re running for president of the United States; act like you’ve been there.”
After the town hall, Ramaswamy dismissed Sununu as “a face of the establishment. I think his endorsement will be the kiss of death for whichever candidate he gives it. And so I’d be dodging that kiss if it came my way.”
“Tell him to actually try building a multi-billion-dollar company from scratch in your late twenties,” Ramaswamy added. “I think being a third-rate, C-list commentator on CNN might be more of his speed.
“He is a version of a hybrid of Chris Christie and [Republican National Committee chairwoman] Ronna McDaniel. They’re all basically the same inner spirit occupying suits of slightly different sizes.”
Ramaswamy threw shots at the larger Republican field, too. “I’m not one of those circus monkeys. And so the class of circus monkeys doesn’t like the one who actually poses a threat to their existence.” And, “If I reflect a disdain for the establishment of the Republican Party, it’s because I have a disdain for the Republican Party.”