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Millenial candidate: Ramaswamy has lot to say about his Gen

Ramaswamy’s views seem to strike a chord with the bulk of his audiences, who are older and unindicted by his observations.

Millenial candidate: Ramaswamy has lot to say about his Gen

Vivek Ramaswamy


UNITED STATES: Vivek Ramaswamy, rising in the polls and buoyed by the first Republican primary debate this week, was barnstorming through central Iowa on Friday with a trademark smile and a remarkably bleak generational diagnosis of what ails younger America.

Millennials like himself, the entrepreneur and political newcomer explained to an overflowing audience in Pella, Iowa, “are starved for purpose, meaning and identity”; robbed of those anchors that made America great — “faith, patriotism, hard work, family”; and stumbling from one cult to another — race, gender, sexuality and climate activism. The government “systematically lies to us,” he said. He told another gathering in Indianola, “We face a non-zero risk that the United States of America could cease to exist,” obliterated by the blossoming alliance of Russia and China. Young Americans, he concluded, have “a black hole in our hearts.”

It is hardly Ronald Reagan’s shining city on the hill, Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century or the countless evocations of American exceptionalism that have buoyed politics for decades now, including those offered by some of his 2024 rivals. And yet somehow his evocation of a generational malaise seems to resonate, at least with the crowds that are packing the restaurants, cafes and even larger venues in the state that will cast the first ballots this January for the Republican presidential nomination.

Noticeably, however, those crowds don’t seem to include many young voters. And many of his views are out of step with those of his generation as well as with the one below it, particularly his positions on climate change — he loudly rejects prescriptions for combating it, like eliminating, or even reducing, the burning of fossil fuels — and the voting age, which he wants to raise, unless young voters can pass a civics test.

Ramaswamy, 38, has never held elective office or worked in government, and he is competing for the presidential nomination in a party whose most loyal voters are baby boomers and Gen Xers, not millennials. (The Pew Research Center defines a millennial as anyone born between 1981 and 1996.)

Yet in national polling averages, he is running third in the primary fight, far behind the front-runner, Donald J. Trump, but approaching the man who was supposed to be Trump’s biggest threat, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Ramaswamy has pitched himself as the Republican future, a conservative in Trump’s image who holds forth at campaign events near a large list of commandments he’s labelled “truth.” His rhetoric in recent weeks has become increasingly strident, though he still delivers those lines with the calm tones and seeming intellectualism of the Harvard debater he was. He speaks now of “revolution” and his own “radicalism.” On Friday, he condemned Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts; the author Ibram X. Kendi; and other avatars of what he called the “racism of the left” as “the modern grand wizards of the modern K.K.K.”

But most of his proposals have not changed for months, including eliminating the Department of Education, the F.B.I. and the Internal Revenue Service; firing 75 percent of the federal work force; ending all aid to Ukraine and freezing the battle lines where they are (“Those would be real wins for Putin, I admit that,” he allowed in Indianola); ending birthright citizenship; and using the military to attack the drug cartels in Mexico.

His positions have simply gotten the attention of opponents who until now have declined to take him seriously. Former Vice President Mike Pence called him a “rookie” on Wednesday night. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, accused him of sounding like ChatGPT.

“You have no foreign policy experience,” said Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, “and it shows.” But at his events, Iowa voters are clearly with him on policy. Their qualms lie elsewhere. “He’s too young for the country,” said Kevin Klucas, 55, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, “not for me, but the country tends to vote for older presidents.”

Outside the Fireside Bistro in Indianola, Dan Bailey, 67, and Pat Hoppenworth, 70, agreed that Ramaswamy, along with the other candidates not named Trump, was auditioning to join Trump’s ticket, and that Ramaswamy had won them over. But they could not agree on the order of the ticket: Ms. Hoppenworth thought the younger man should be president, with the former president by his side; Bailey said Ramaswamy would be vice president.

“I will never give up on Trump,” he said.

Ramaswamy’s views of American society, especially youthful society, could be politically risky. He doesn’t exactly deny the established science of human-made climate change, but he says climate change policy is a “hoax” and that “climatism,” what he calls the youth-driven activism seeking to reverse global warming, is a cult — a position that seems guaranteed to alienate young voters.

He has proposed a constitutional amendment that would raise the legal voting age to 25, though 18- to 24-year-olds would retain the right to vote if they passed the same civics test that naturalized citizens must pass.

More than anything, he has portrayed his generation and younger ones as empty souls living meaningless lives. “There’s more to life than the aimless passage of time, which is what we teach 18-year-olds today,” he said on Pella’s central square, to an audience at the Butcher’s Brewhuis that was so large dozens had to be turned away.

Ramaswamy’s views seem to strike a chord with the bulk of his audiences, who are older and unindicted by his observations. Rick Giarusso, a 61-year-old retired Army officer from Carlisle, Iowa, spoke of his 29-year-old son and his son’s 26-year-old wife, who he said are both “well-educated professionals” but with “a sense that something is missing.”

The younger members of his audiences, a small minority, are more divided. Alex Foley, 32, a Pella resident, asked Ramaswamy a pointed question on his “truth” that “God is real,” and how he could unite a country where the idea of God inspires so many different beliefs. For Foley, who said he “loves Jesus intensely,” the notion of a young generation devoid of spirituality seemed alien. His own journey led him from drugs and clerking in a video store to a commitment to the Bible, hardly a path followed only by millennials. “Do I consider myself, aimless, purposeless, meaningless?” Foley said. “Of course, no one would like to consider themselves such a thing. But do I feel like my generation has a particularly increased struggle to find what it is they should be fighting for? I would say yes.”

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