There are two people Ramaswamy credits with his early conservative bent. But both figures may reveal just as much about why he’s so eager to speak to anyone who will listen — and how his attention-grabbing takes might come more from a desire to be contrarian rather than from deeply held beliefs.
The first foundational figure is his father, V. Ganapathy Ramaswamy, who emigrated from Kerala, India, to the U.S. after graduating from the National Institute of Technology Calicut. Vivek’s mother was a psychiatrist for older adults, and his father worked as an engineer at GE in Ohio in the 1980s and 1990s, a period notorious for then-CEO Jack Welch’s decision to downsize the company’s workforce. His dad wanted to keep his job amidst rampant layoffs, so he enrolled in law school across the river at Northern Kentucky University to become a patent attorney in hopes of securing his position at the company. It worked.
Ramaswamy would often accompany his father on his way to class and now jokes that he attended law school twice: Once with his father and later as an adult himself at Yale Law School, where he simultaneously worked at a hedge fund called QVT Financial LP. (He made partner at the hedge fund by 28.) On the way back from his dad’s law school classes, a young and precocious Ramaswamy often got into political arguments with his progressive father about what Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia had said in any given case. But the young Vivek’s takes came less out of conviction, he has said, and more out of the simple desire to be rebellious. “The teenager in me would take the other side of my dad,” Ramaswamy says. “He also turned me into a conservative in awakening the contrarian instincts of a teenager.”
Somewhat unexpectedly, he also credits Welch with turning him into a conservative. “Jack Welch, though many chains down the GE corporate hierarchy, dealt hardship to my family and to my dad,” he says. “But my dad’s choice was not to be victimized by it.”
The second person in his political origin story is his Reagan-loving piano teacher. (Like Buttigieg, Ramaswamy is a skilled musician — he doesn’t just rap Eminem; he plays Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” on Richard Nixon’s old piano.) When Hillary or Bill Clinton made news, and Ramaswamy hadn’t practiced, he would attempt to distract his piano teacher by bringing up the controversy of the day. Don’t think I don’t see through your trick, he recalls her telling him. I know what you’re doing. Eventually, she gave him a Reagan biography. He read it, and it clearly left a mark. A few months back he posted on LinkedIn: “20 years later, I’m playing her favorite piece at a house party in New Hampshire after giving a speech about how we’ll revive Reagan’s spirit. I wish she were here!”
Decades later, you sometimes sense that Ramaswamy is still back in the car with his father, taking the contrarian position. Or that he’s tweaking voters or a left-wing host just to distract them, as he did his piano teacher. For a go-everywhere, media blitz strategy to work, a candidate can’t just show up and talk, he or she has to say provocative or extreme things too. Otherwise, the interviews dry up and the bookers stop calling. Buttigieg pulled that off by discussing packing the Supreme Court and likening James Joyce’s work to stormwater drainage. (Buttigieg’s 2020 bid “convinced me that I could” run for president, Ramaswamy tells me.)
Ramaswamy certainly says things that are provocative. He wants to raise the voting age to 25, for example. (He himself did not vote between 2004 and 2020.) He calls affirmative action “the single biggest form of institutionalized racism in America today.” He thinks parts of Ukraine should go to Vladimir Putin.
He also directly verges into conspiratorial territory. In my interviews, he said “it is ludicrous to say that the government and the 9/11 Commission told the whole truth” about the events leading up to the fall of the towers. He frequently talks about the idea of the “noble lie,” a concept that the government isn’t being fully honest with the American public in order to ensure the nation’s greater good.