Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, and Vivek Ramaswamy’s plan for the second Republican presidential debate was to go from an idiot to a Mr. Nice Guy. And yes, this plan lasted about as long as most of Mike Tyson’s fights.
“These are good people on this stage,” Ramaswamy said at the start of the debate. It was a stark contrast to the first primary debate when he declared, “I’m the only person on this stage who isn’t being bought and paid for.”
This move required a lot of chutzpah. Vivek used the first debate to create a buzz and gain notoriety in the attention economy – at the expense of his opponents. This strategy obviously worked, but surveys and focus groups must have shown that he also came across as annoying. So – just like a politician who focuses on the center in the general election – the next step was to show a kinder, gentler Ramaswamy.
He has made these efforts quite clear. “Let me level with all of you. “I’m the new guy here and I know I have to earn your trust,” Ramaswamy once said. “What do you see? You see a young man who is in a bit of a hurry, perhaps a bit ambitious, sometimes he seems a bit of a know-it-all. I’m here to tell you that I don’t know everything. I will listen .”
The experienced politicians on stage probably heard it like this: Hey guys, I know you’ve been working in these fields for decades, and I know I attacked you all last time. But the good news is: As soon as I become president, I will appoint you as my advisors!
Ramaswamy’s attempt to set things right did not go down well and it wasn’t long before Sen. Tim Scott called him out on it and turned the tables. “We think about the fact that Vivek said we are all good people and I appreciate that; ‘Cause at the last debate he said we were all bought and paid for,” Scott reminded the audience.
“You know,” Scott continued, “I can’t imagine how you could say that [the part about being bought and paid for] I knew you were fair in business with the Chinese Communist Party And the same people who funded Hunter Biden millions of dollars were also partners with you.”
“This is nonsense,” Ramaswamy said.
“That’s no nonsense,” Scott replied.
“These are good people tainted by a broken system, and it’s not the fault of anyone in politics.” Ramaswamy saidpresumably talking about his opponents on stage.
Then something interesting happened. Vivek, the normally slick salesman with hair that could be described as Lyle Lovett-esque, appeared, perhaps for the first time in his life, speechless and taken aback.
“Thank you for speaking while I interrupt,” he said.
Truer words have never been spoken.
After some back and forth and crosstalk, Ramaswamy decided to conveniently look for an exit ramp by calling the hero in whose presidential library the debate was taking place.
“In honor of Ronald Reagan, if I may (Ramaswamy likes to say ‘if I may’), and…from one admirer of Ronald Reagan to another…we cannot sit here and violate Reagan’s 11th Commandment.” [Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican].
For a man whose first move in the first debate was to attack the motives of every Republican on the stage, that was rich.
Ramaswamy was briefly saved by the bell, but the hits kept coming. The host tried to change the subject to Dreamers and turn to former Vice President Mike Pence. But he began by saying, “I am glad that Vivek retired from his business in China in 2018. That must have been around the time you decided to vote in the presidential election. It’s nice that you are taking part in the elections.”
If Mike Pence attacks you, you’re in trouble.
But hitting on Ramaswamy about China was a theme of the night, and it was Nikki Haley who once again pulled off the nastiest shot of the night as Ramaswamy mocked the Chinese-owned TikTok.
As you may recall, Ramaswamy was initially against TikTok, calling it “digital fentanyl“, before posting a video in which he dances with influencer Jake Paul. “TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media assets we can have,” Haley said. “And honestly, every time I hear you say what you say makes me feel a little more stupid.”
It was a sentence that, frankly, described the entire debate, but it resonated because it was honest and (unlike Mike Pence’s cringe-worthy jokes about it) sleep with a teacher or Chris Christie’s “Donald Duck” line) probably spontaneously.
And Haley continued. “You hear we have a TikTok situation. What they do is 150 million people are on TikTok. This means they can receive your contacts, your financial information and your emails. You can receive your text messages. You can get all of these things.”
“They had deals with the Chinese,” she continued. “We can’t trust you.”
Ramaswamy responded by criticizing his opponents for “insults”. He also invoked Reagan’s 11th Commandment again. It felt like a villain’s last resort.
In the first debate, Ramaswamy was looking for a fight. He found it, but he gave as much as he got. This time he thought he could use his charm and eloquence to calm the situation. But his rivals simply refused to cooperate with his plan. This forced him to play a lot of defense and he ended up with a bloody lip from Haley.
So much for killing them with kindness.