Republican presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy praises Modi as an “excellent” leader who does not apologize for Indian national identity
By Aziz Haniffa
Vivek Ramaswamy believes as one who has lived the full American dream, he is well qualified to lead America out of a national identity crisis and give pride to the next generation of Americans.
Indian American Republican presidential aspirant says Washington needs fewer professional politicians and more people who have actually had true success in the private sector — like him.
“I think we need an outsider in the White House,” he says in a wide-ranging interview with Aziz Haniffa for the American Bazaar explaining why he has directly jumped into the 2024 presidential race.
“I think we need fewer professional politicians in Washington, DC, and more people who have actually had true success in the private sector,” says the biotech billionaire who has “built multi-billion-dollar companies from scratch.”
Born in Cincinnati to Indian immigrant parents, Ramaswamy, 37, also advocates a stronger partnership with India and believes Narendra Modi “has been an excellent prime minister for India.”
“I think what we need in the United States and what we can learn from that experience is Modi is a leader that does not apologize for Indian national identity,” he says.
Ramaswamy answered questions ranging from what he stands for, to how he differs from other Republican candidates, his lack of criticism of former President Donald Trump and how he would build a stronger partnership with India.
READ: Vivek Ramaswamy wants to raise the voting age to 25 (May 12, 2023)
Here is the full transcript of the interview. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Aziz Haniffa: I’ve been following you right from the start. You appeared on Fox News show Gutfeld! and Tucker Carlson. You burst into the political scene with a bang. Instead of using the traditional process of other Indian American politicians, such as former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former South Carolina Gov. and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who were state legislators, congressmen, and then governors.
What makes you apart from them and what triggered your jumping into the fray? I know you were flirting a bit with running for the US Senate from Ohio, for the seat vacated by Sen. Bob Portman. There were people pushing you to run for the Senate. But getting into the big leagues and running for the presidency, what triggered you? Was it your book tour, which was very well received?
Vivek Ramaswamy: The reality is that I think we need an outsider in the White House. I’ve lived the full American dream. I think we need fewer professional politicians in Washington, DC, and more people who have actually had true success in the private sector.
I’ve built multi-billion-dollar companies from scratch. I’ve built multiple successful companies. I’ve written three successful books. I believe my success in the private sector, as a parent, as the father of now two young sons, as a millennial — I’m the first millennial ever to run for US president as a Republican.
For me, I don’t believe in some hierarchy. I believe in looking myself in the mirror and asking myself, “How can I have the biggest possible impact that’s positive on this country ?”
And for me, that answer was to lead us out of this national identity crisis that we’re in; to give pride to the next generation of Americans, to my two sons and their generation. And I saw no better way to do that than to lead this country as our next president. And, I think, being an outsider is actually an advantage to accomplishing that.
AH: One columnist wrote that you are a vegetarian who throws red meat to the Republican base. Are you a MAGA Republican?
VR: I’m an unapologetic America-first, pro-American conservative. What does that mean? I think that, as the leader of this country, I will put the interests of Americans first without apologizing for it. That’s what the leader of this nation should do.
If you’re the leader of Japan or Poland or India, for that matter — [That] is what makes Modi a good leader of his country — you should do that when you leave your country. But the trap we’ve fallen into in the United States is, by thinking that, if you’re the US president somehow, it’s your job to look after everyone else’s interests and apologize for your own at home.
I reject that. I think the job of the next president is to put America first and I do that in a way that I think will unite this country. But I won’t apologize for it.
AH: Why have you become such a culture warrior? You could have spoken about your successful entrepreneurship, taking on the entrenched pharmaceutical industry, starting a hedge fund and going after the likes of “woke” — as you allege — investment firms like BlackRock and Vanguard.
Why is it that you’ve become such a strong cultural warrior, instead of focusing on what really made yourself into this successful entrepreneur?
VR: That’s a label that the media attaches to me, and, I think the media is badly broken. Today, the media thrives on polarization. What I’m talking about is actually a unifying vision for this country. I stand for meritocracy.
I stand for unapologetically the idea that, no matter who you are or where you came from, or what your skin color is, that you should be able to get ahead in America, based on your own hard work and commitment, and dedication. I call that pro-merit. Somebody else will call that a culture warrior.
The labels don’t matter. I’m clear about what I stand for. I stand for the truth. I stand for the principles that this country was founded on. To me, that’s not a cultural warrior.
I think that that’s a pro-American leader. I believe that that’s quietly putting the media to one side and the labels they attach. I think that’s what most Americans are actually hungry for and that’s what I’m delivering.
Read: Vivek Ramaswamy enters Republican race for White House (February 22, 2023)
AH: Some have argued that, while you’ve taken some zingers at many of the presidential candidates like DeSantis and Nikki Haley, you’ve scrupulously stayed away from saying a single critical thing against former President Donald Trump, who’s leading very handily in the polls.
You’ve not only echoed some of his talking points about a two-tier justice system, but also called on all GOP candidates to take a pledge that, if one of them is elected president, they should pardon Donald Trump.
You also called for the Espionage Act to be eliminated. Why is that? Some critics argue that “you’re sucking up to Trump” because you’re hoping for a cabinet position at some point. How do you counter that type of contention?
VR: Well, I can tell you flat out that I’m not going to take a cabinet position or any second-best position. I’m running to lead this nation. I know that and many people are sensitive when you draw policy contrasts from them.
So many of those other campaigns have been perpetuating that narrative. Frankly, I’ve drawn more policy contrasts from Trump than probably most other candidates in this race. But I draw policy contrasts from the others as well.
I think debate makes the Republican Party stronger. I think it makes our country stronger. I look forward to facing off with the other candidates on the debate stage, which I’ve qualified for in late August.
And I’m running to lead this country as our next president, as somebody who actually can reach that next generation of Americans and revive national pride. And I think I can do that with due respect better than anybody else in this race.
READ: Vivek Ramaswamy exploring 2024 presidential run (February 14, 2023)
AH: I’m sure you are aware of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US last month, where President Biden rolled out the red carpet and then some.
And also he addressed a joint session of Congress at the invitation of Speaker McCarthy. How bullish are you about the US-India relationship?
And how much do you attribute this relationship to the catalytic role played by the Indian American community, who are punching way above their weight in all facets of American society?
VR: I was actually, in person, present at the joint address to Congress. I was invited as a guest of the congressman who hosted me earlier that day. I’ll tell you this: I think it’s a natural alliance between the world’s two largest democracies, but also at an important time in our history as Americans. The top threat that we face is communist China — it is not the old “cold world.” The USSR does not exist. It is communist China today.
So I think the reliance on India and Japan and South Korea, but yes India is absolutely on that list. Both economically and geopolitically, it is going to be crucial for the US to actually be able to declare independence from China.
I think that’s also important from India’s standpoint. So there’s a natural alliance here. I’m glad to see Modi’s visit here was successful, and, under my presidency, India will absolutely be on the list of core allies for the United States to prioritize.
AB: If you are elected president how differently would you nurture this US-India partnership? This burgeoning relationship, which seems to be almost on autopilot from the bad old days of the Cold War, during the time India was considered a surrogate of the Soviet Union…
VR: Exactly. So, the first thing is a lot of my foreign policy wakes us up from the fact that we’re not in the 20th century anymore. And many in both the Republican and Democratic parties, be it with the Ukraine war, or otherwise, are driving with their eyes in the rearview mirror.
My view is if we’re looking forward to the 21st century, with most of which is still ahead of us, we have to have both sides of this relationship leveling up.
I think the US can level up by saying that we’re going to prioritize trade relationships with partners like India — that we’re going to need as trade partners to be able to reduce our economic reliance on China.
For India’s part, I think India needs to level up on its investment in its own military. The US has tried to be helpful on that front. In the past, India has fallen short of its commitments. I’d like to see India level up. So in any partnership, I think good friends push each other to be the best version of themselves. That’s what I want to see out of this partnership between the US and India, but I predict it will be strong in the decade ahead and certainly under my presidency.
AH: So you are perfectly in sync with sort of a bipartisan policy as the US sees India as a counterweight to a very aggressive China? You are totally in sync with that?
Maybe if you’re elected what would you do differently in countering an aggressive China? India has this policy of strategic autonomy.
They don’t want to be seen as an ally but they are part of the QUAD, with Japan and Australia in terms of pushing this Indo-Pacific, the entire pathway where China is trying to have dominance.
VR: I’m not only in sync with it, I’ve been leading the way on that message. In fact, one of the things that I want to see is… I do want to see India be express about the fact that India views itself as an ally of the United States in this bipolar world order vis-a-vis China and the US.
India needs to be clear it stands with the US. And I think it’ll be in the advantage of both the United States and India to see that. In the case of Taiwan, even if China invades Taiwan, my top job as US president is to make sure that China does not invade Taiwan, to deter that, but without going to war over it.
So the relationship with India is crucial because many of the oil supplies from the Middle East flow through the Indian Ocean all the way to China.
If China knows and Xi Jinping knows that India stands solidly with the US on this, that will force Xi Jinping to have to think twice before he invades Taiwan. That’s important for economic security around the world. Global semiconductors, the supply chain, originates in that tiny island nation.
That would hurt both India and the US, if he were to invade Taiwan. I think India is standing solidly with the US and China knowing that, I think, will be good both for India and the United States.
AH: Have you met with Prime Minister Modi during your visits to India or during almost six visits to the US?
VR: He and I have not met yet. I expect to spend time with him after I’m elected, perhaps in the lead-up to the election. We’re meeting with other serious world leaders as well.
But I think that the most important is going to be actually honesty and transparency in that relationship, not just the feel-good statements. Let’s get to the nit and grit of how we can actually solidify that relationship beyond the platitudes.
AH: Talking about honesty and being candid, what’s your assessment of Prime Minister Modi? Do you see him as a unifier or as a polarizer there have been a lot of minorities, human rights groups and others who have been very concerned about what’s happening in India vis-a-vis the minorities and just on the eve of his meeting with former President Obama had the statement saying that President Biden should bring up these issues about minorities etc. and he doesn’t want a rupture in the democratic fabric of India. So what’s your assessment of Prime Minister Modi?
VR: I think he’s been an excellent prime minister for India. I think he has unapologetically embraced free-market capitalism. It’s the best system known to man to lift people up from poverty. We know that from our experience here in the United States.
Modi has been building on that experience in India, lifting people up from poverty. Regardless of their background, regardless of identity politics, India has prospered economically. GDP growth is up. I think that’s the ultimate metric of a truly successful unifying leader.
Economic growth and prosperity is something that unites people of any nation. India is not an exception to that. So I think Modi has been an unapologetic success. I also think that in rooting out some of the financial failures, corruption, and otherwise, we have to applaud his accomplishments.
No leader is perfect, but I do think that he’s been an outstanding leader of India. I think what we need in the United States and what we can learn from that experience is Modi is a leader that does not apologize for Indian national identity.
What we need in the United States is a US president who stands proudly for American national identity. The current president in the White House, I do not think, meets that standard.
I’m running to lead America forward to rediscover what it means to be a citizen of the United States. Modi’s done a great job of that in India, but now it’s time for someone to rise to the occasion here in the US and answer what it means to be an American.