Indian American Vivek Ramaswamy appeared to outdo weathered rivals at the first Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, taking the most potshots and even clapping back in equal measure. One of the highlights of his debate debut was a comparison with former US President Barack Obama, provoked by his own introduction.
Vivek Ramaswamy, 38, was described as an “amateur” Barack Obama by fellow aspirant Chris Christie, former New Jersey Governor.
The jibe was linked to Vivek Ramaswamy describing himself as a “skinny guy with a funny last name”, reminding many of the former US President. He has even been slammed on social media for “plagiarising Obama”.
“Let me just address the question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight. Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name, and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?” said Vivek Ramaswamy, grinning.
“I’ll tell you, I’m not a politician. You’re right about that. I’m an entrepreneur. My parents came to this country with no money 40 years ago. I have gone on to found multi-billion dollar companies. That is the American dream. And I am genuinely worried that that American dream will not exist for our two sons and their generation unless we do something about it.”
Later during the debate, Chris Christie referred to the comment as he growled: “Hold on, I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.” He was reacted to Mr Ramaswamy’s comment that the climate change agenda is a hoax.
“He stands up here, and the last person in one of these debates, Brett, who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘What’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here’ was Barack Obama. And I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur tendencies tonight,” said Mr Christie, 60.
Mr Ramaswamy shot back: “Give me a hug like you did to Obama, and you’ll help elect me just like you did to Obama. Give me the damn hug, brother.”
In 2012, Chris Christie faced criticism for apparently hugging Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, days before the 2012 presidential election. Mr Christie denied that he had ever done so. “I didn’t hug him,” the Republican insisted, and stuck to it over the years.
Opinion polls show Mr Ramaswamy ranking second after former US president Donald Trump, who skipped the debate yesterday but still grabbed attention.
Mr Ramaswamy, who has been moving up the charts over the past few weeks, elbowing other presidential aspirants in his party, was also repeatedly attacked by former Vice President Mike Pence.
“We don’t need to bring in a rookie,” Mr Pence said, pointing at him.
Even President Joe Biden reacted to Mr Ramaswamy’s comment on climate change. “Climate change is real, by the way,” the president posted on X.
Apart from Mr Ramaswamy, the other Indian-American on the Republican presidential debate stage was former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, the only woman in the race so far.
But it was Mr Ramaswamy who was at the receiving end of most attacks during the debate.
On the Barack Obama comparisons, Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna posted that the former US President Obama “must be smiling” somewhere.
“Somewhere @BarackObama must be smiling that a 38-year-old son of Hindu immigrants running to the right of Trump is cribbing from him! Obama’s vision for a multiracial democracy is seeping into our politics despite the intense backlash. A slow but satisfying vindication,” Ro Khanna posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Mr Ramaswamy, a second-generation Indian-American, founded Roivant Sciences in 2014 and led the largest biotech IPOs of 2015 and 2016, according to his bio.