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"What Stupid People Think Smart People Sound Like."
A few thoughts on Vivek.
Happy Friday everyone, and happy post-Labor Day recovery period. I hope you are all preparing for the arrival of Fall, when the days plummet into darkness at 2 P.M., and the wind is cold and unforgiving. In a few short months, you will step out into the frigid air and run back inside for a warmer coat, all while longing for the warmer summer months you were so “over” just weeks ago. You will love the winter and despair.
Let’s talk about Vivek. 😃
Vivek (rhymes with “Da Cake”) Ramaswamy popped up in the news after the GOP debate back in August. He had a quick media boomlet and then seemed to fade away after other, more important stuff took over the news cycle. But I’m writing this piece because he recently sat down for a long, 25-minute interview with Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC.
It is worth watching. After the debate, Vivek rocketed to super-stardom (at least in terms of GOP politics) and began to attract a lot more attention from the Press, which dug into some of his claims. But during the debate, the live reaction from both old-school conservative Republicans and liberals was that Ramaswamy was a used car salesman who would eventually fade. I personally had a feeling everyone would be wrong. In fact, the one thing I wrote about Ramaswamy in the Jackal prior to the debate was this:
I said this to a friend recently: I bet Vivek Ramaswamy ends up with more delegates than Ron DeSantis after the primary is completely over. If I’m wrong about that, then the next time you are in Denver your drink is on me.
The reason so many people (including his fellow Republicans on stage) hated him is thanks to the nature of current GOP politics.
Vivek is Trump-lite.
One of the things I saw on Twitter (ugh) during the debate was that Ramaswamy is a “stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.” It’s a phrase used a lot by the Left, usually in regard to someone like Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson. While both of them produce hilariously wrong takes (Shapiro recently predicted the Barbie movie would be a financial disaster…it is currently the 15th highest grossing movie of all time), neither of them can be described as “stupid” (nor is it fair to describe their fans that way, but that’s a longer discussion). But they say really silly things because their audience demands a steady stream of Hot Takes™ from a conservative point of view.
Neither of them are really part of the conservative “intelligencia,” which generally consists of dudes from think tanks or National Review. They are part of the conservative entertainment class, which has undoubtedly taken over the whole of conservative media. Vivek is the product of Shapiro and Peterson’s popularity in a way that someone like Nikki Haley is not. Haley is a dose of traditional Republican reality, whereas Vivek is a product of the current brand of Conservatism™.
One of the reasons Vivek’s stage-mates expressed such contempt for him at the debate is that they know he’s lying to get the attention of voters. He makes ridiculous statements (e.g., we should be completely neutral in Russia’s war against Ukraine) that he doesn’t believe, because he knows what the GOP base wants to hear. And he’s right. Despite what all of his fellow Republicans said on the stage, almost 70% of Republican voters are against any more aid towards Ukraine. If you have followed politics for more than five minutes, this sounds super weird, but it’s true: The base of the GOP has shifted to the left of Democrats on foreign policy since Trump was President.
So, I think it’s important to say this: Vivek is definitely not stupid. He is fully aware that some of the things he is saying sound dumb to any person who has read a book, but he also knows that it’s what the base of the GOP actually wants to hear. During the debate, Vivek actually said that Trump was the best President of the 21st Century. Spoiler: Donald Trump is currently running for President, so if you think he was the best, why are you running against him?
When you watch the interview and see what happens after Vivek is confronted with his past statements from only a couple years ago, it is natural to wonder about the cause of Vivek’s total 180 from his previous views. Just watch this clip from the show to see what I mean:
In that clip, Hasan openly speculates that the reason for Vivek’s shift is that he wants to be Trump’s running mate, something many others have posited. Basically, he is lying about his views in the hopes of fooling both Trump voters and Trump himself.
I am here to be even more cynical than that.
I feel like this is about to get dark.
Vivek wasn’t always a politician. In a previous life, he ran a BioTech company called Axovant, which hyped up a drug that supposedly cured Alzheimer’s. Big, if true.
Vivek’s company purchased the Alzheimer’s drug from a much bigger pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for around $5 million. You are probably wondering why GSK would let such a valuable piece of medical real estate leave their hands for only $5 million. The simple answer is that the drug didn’t work. It had failed four clinical trials by the time Vivek purchased it.
But don’t worry about that: Vivek’s Mom came to the rescue. Axovant released a new clinical trial of the drug, and all of a sudden, it worked great! His Mom put her name on the study, and a formerly bogus drug magically became un-bogused. Axovant did an IPO and with all the hype surrounding a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, it became the biggest biotech IPO in history.
Then Axovant did another clinical trial of the drug and it failed. Miserably. But by that time, Vivek and his family had sold off their shares and watched their stock plummet, ultimately being valued at less than a dollar.
Maybe you’ve heard all of this before, since a lot of it has gone viral following the debate. And there are all sorts of complications when it comes to (allegedly) pumping and dumping a biotech stock. But it really is worth noting that something like this might pique the interest of the Federal government. In fact, some of Vivek’s other financial dealings have piqued the interest of Bermuda, where he incorporated some of his companies.
Moreover, Vivek has even said that he can’t respond to lawsuits filed against him there because he’s running for President. It’s almost like this is a tactic certain people try when they get into legal trouble. Is Vivek running to be Trump’s Vice-President? Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that he’s running to make himself more difficult to pursue in a legal proceeding.
OK, so that is dark.
I wanted to peel back the onion here because it speaks to a larger problem within GOP politics. How did a pretty obvious grifter and charlatan sneak into the Republican primary? And then how is he polling higher than well-known Republicans?
Vivek simply knows what the base of the GOP wants to hear, and it is nonsense. The reason Vivek did not given Hasan an inch throughout the entire interview is because he knows the GOP base will reward him for blustering (assuming they watch the interview at all, and many won’t) rather than hit him for his blatant inconsistencies. Republican voters are not worried about Vivek refusing to answer a simple question about Trump’s actions, but they would be worried if Vivek had criticized Trump in any substantive way. Vivek is smart enough to know this, whereas a lot of his fellow Republicans are oblivious.
There is a really good piece by Christian Vanderbrouk in The Bulwark, that details how the anti-anti-Trump section of the GOP simply wanted to “wish away” all of the issues within the conservative movement and the base of the Party. He gives lots of examples, but this stuck out to me:
Weeks after the insurrection, prominent members of the conservative Heritage Foundation publicly denounced the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and called for them to be expelled from public life. “Americans should categorically and consistently reject those who use violence to assault the constitutional foundation of this exceptional nation,” they said, “whether it’s the Oath Keepers, Antifa, or other organizations. . . . Groups that embrace political violence divorce themselves from the American polity.”
But after a change in leadership, Heritage later forced a staffer to delete a Twitter post denouncing the Capitol riot. The organization also promoted the conspiracy theory that undercover federal agents stoked violence at the Capitol as part of a plot against Trump.
As Trump tightened his grip on the party, conservatives who hoped everyone might move on from him decided to make a virtue of necessity, dressing up their fecklessness as prudence. There could be no role for “vocally anti-Trump leaders” in leading the party to a better place, they claimed. Instead, argued Dan McLaughlin, everyone should, as much as possible, simply “ignore Trump.”
Nor could the former president’s opponents speak frankly about his violent and illegal plot to steal the 2020 election. As Noah Rothman admitted this past May, they would have to pull their punches.
The argument from every thinking Republican is this:
Yes, we know Trump is bad.
We know he is not qualified to be President.
But our Party loves him, so we can’t say that stuff too loudly.
We will keep quiet about that stuff, and then hope he goes away.
Obviously, I think Trump is a problem, but he’s not the problem. After all, it was Trump who fast-tracked the COVID-19 vaccines and got them into the arms of vulnerable people. But it was Ron DeSantis who then decided to engage in vaccine trutherism, and then sat back and watched while the COVID death rate in his State soared past New York’s.
Trump didn’t do that; DeSantis did. And he did it because he knew what the GOP base wanted to hear. They don’t want reality because they are addicted to the nonsense.
This is now a repeated line throughout the Jackal, but Trump is not the root of the problem with the GOP. He is a symptom. He watched Fox News for years, learned how to speak like a conservative, and then jumped on an escalator and said he wanted to nuke Mexico. It’s not complicated!
It is because there is an entire media ecosystem filled with people like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Vivek Ramaswamy that does not care about the consequences of the words coming out of their mouths.
One of my favorite TV shows ever is The Leftovers. I don’t want to spoil too much, so if you are at all interested in watching it, have a great weekend. End your Jackal here. We can end on a picture of my dog.
The Leftovers centers around a rapture-like event where 2% of the world’s population just vanishes off the face of the earth. In a small town in upstate New York, the local residents just try to move on (like humans do) and go about their lives. They pay tribute to the people who vanished but mostly get back to “normal.”
A group called the Guilty Remnant is made up of people who do not want to move on. They think what happened was too catastrophic to simply brush aside, so they engage in elaborate (as well as dangerous and illegal) pranks to force people to acknowledge reality: The world has been fundamentally changed and there is no “moving on.”
In an incredible scene, Justin Theroux and Ann Dowd (one of the five best actresses alive right now, IMHO) hash this out and Dowd’s character goes to an extreme length to demonstrate the seriousness of what happened (super violent BTW):
I am Ann Dowd and Justin Theroux is the GOP. Until you acknowledge the problem, there is no skirting around it. You cannot pretend like Trump and Vivek are not staring you smack in the face. And they will almost certainly not be the last of the grifters to infiltrate the conservative movement.
Everyone is pretending like the GOP debates do not matter, that Vivek’s candidacy isn’t even real, and that the entire exercise of a primary is silly because Trump is going to be the nominee. Eventually, the reality is going to hit that Trump could be facing jail time. Next year, a jury will likely go to a room and make a decision about Trump’s guilt. He could be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
What will happen then? What is conservative media going to do? Will anyone actually tell Republican voters the truth?
So, I have to announce another potential Jackal break. I will be in California next weekend, celebrating my ten-year anniversary. I will try to get you something mid-week, but if that becomes too crazy, you won’t hear back from me until September 29th. Have a great weekend.