Yesterday in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump was indicted on felony charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. It is the third indictment against the former president, following indictments in New York (where he is accused of falsifying business records that show he paid hush money to a porn star) and Florida (where he is accused of illegal possession of classified documents). In Georgia, prosecutors are investigating an alleged effort by the former president to reverse his loss to Joe Biden there.
This most recent indictment—which is 45 pages long and was filed by special counsel Jack Smith—accuses Trump of conspiring to defraud the United States, violate Americans’ civil rights, and obstruct an official government proceeding.
“Each of these conspiracies—which built on the widespread mistrust the defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud—targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election,” the indictment states.
Chris Christie came out swinging, calling Trump and his team “the Corleones with no experience.”
Mike Pence weighed in: “Today’s indictment serves as an important reminder: anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States.”
So did Vivek Ramaswamy, who is currently polling in third place—at 7 percent.
Here’s what he tweeted:
“The corrupt federal police just won’t stop until they’ve achieved their mission: eliminate Trump. This is un-American & I commit to pardoning Trump for this indictment. Donald Trump isn’t the cause of what happened on Jan 6. The real cause was systematic & pervasive censorship of citizens in the year leading up to it. If you tell people they can’t speak, that’s when they scream. If you tell people they can’t scream, that’s when they tear things down.”
The statement is in keeping with Ramaswamy’s strategy vis-à-vis the former president: don’t sidestep Trump; don’t attack Trump; be a better version of Trump. Be Trump 2.0.
Why, I asked him in today’s episode of Honestly, would voters would go for New Coke when they can have the original? He said this: “Do you want a two-liter bottle that’s been in the fridge and doesn’t have the same fizz that it did when you first popped the cork?” He added: “I’ve got fresh legs. I’m 37. I’m going further than Trump did. And I think the part that’s most persuasive is the truth: thirty percent of this country becomes psychiatrically ill, maybe deranged, when Trump is in office.”
Ramaswamy tells me that he thinks he has what it takes not just to beat Trump and win the Republican nomination, but to win the White House. If he does, as he points out, he’d be the youngest American president ever elected.
I urge you to listen to the whole conversation. We talk about his radical plans to shutter the Department of Education and the FBI; why he’s an “owl” when it comes to China; why he admires Bernie Sanders; the culture war; and, oh, he raps.
Click just below to listen. An edited excerpt follows. And, as always, see you in the comments. —BW
On Vivek’s story:
BW: Politics is all about storytelling, and the winning candidate—or the candidate that catches fire—is almost always the one with the best story. What is your story, and why is it the story that Americans are craving right now?
VR: Whether Americans are craving it or not, that’ll be for them to decide. But I’ll tell you what my story is. I’m the embodiment of the American dream. My parents came to this country over 40 years ago with almost no money. I’ve gone on to found multibillion-dollar companies that created value by doing valuable things for other people, developing five medicines that are FDA approved today. One of them is a life-saving therapy for kids, another one for prostate cancer. I did it while getting married, while bringing two sons into this world, while following my faith in God, while growing up with the ultimate privilege in this country. And I think the thing that’s extraordinary about that story is that it isn’t extraordinary. It is the story of this country. And I don’t think we’re in decline. I think we are still a nation in our ascent, in the early stages of our ascent actually, a nation whose best days are still ahead. I think it takes someone in my shoes to see our nation that way, too. That’s truly what pulled me into the race.
BW: There’s a lot of people running on a reformist platform. You’re running on a radical or a revolutionary one. You say America needs a second revolution. Many people hear revolution, and they think bloodshed and violence. What do you mean by that, and what does that revolution look like?
VR: To me, it does not mean bloodshed and violence, but it means a revival of the ideals that set this nation into motion in 1776. I do think we live in a 1776 moment. I think that the American bargain was built on the idea that we, the people, determine how we settle our political differences through free speech and open debate in the public square where every person’s voice and vote counts equally. That is self-governance. And I think that there is the Old World vision now rearing its head in multiple forms that says, no, we the people cannot be trusted. The citizens of a nation cannot be trusted to determine what’s actually good for them—so we, the intelligentsia, must make that determination centrally at large. I stand on the side of the American Revolution, the ideals that birthed this nation. I think we live in a moment where we have to confront those radical ideals. I think that the American ideals are very fundamentally radical ideals: self-governance, free speech, like absolute free speech, the idea that you get ahead through unbridled meritocracy, the unbridled pursuit of excellence, the steadfast commitment to the rule of law rather than the whims of men. These are radical ideals, because for most of human history, it was done the other way. I think it is the radicalism of the American Revolution and those ideals that are our last best chance for national unity, because that is what actually binds us together across our diverse attributes. And without embracing that radicalism, I think we’re nothing.
BW: You’re incredibly entertaining. You have a view on everything. You’re a phenomenal talker, which will take you far. And remarkably, as of the latest polls, you’re third behind Trump and DeSantis. But many commentators say that ultimately, you have no shot at the nomination. Why is that conventional wisdom wrong about you?
VR: Everyone seems to be shocked where I am right now. I’m not surprised. This is exactly where we expected to be. The reality is, I think people are hungry for the unfiltered truth. I would rather speak the truth about my own beliefs at every step and lose the election than to play some political Snakes and Ladders. And I believe that our voters across this country have a good sixth sense for being able to tell the difference for somebody who’s actually sharing their true beliefs versus somebody who’s giving them carefully constructed, poll-tested slogans. And that is the competitive advantage. My gut instinct is we’re going to win this election. We’re going to win it in a landslide of a margin similar to what Reagan delivered in 1980.
BW: So you’re going to be the Obama of this race, not the Andrew Yang?
VR: I’m going to be the Vivek Ramaswamy of this race, and that’s what I’m committed to being.
BW: Some would say you’re running as a kind of Trump 2.0. What do you think of that?
VR: I think that’s not inaccurate. The reality is, I do think he was an excellent president as judged by measurable results. But I believe I will win the nomination by taking most of Trump’s voters with us. That’s the answer. I can’t tell you the number of events I’ve been to now where so many people come wearing Trump shirts or Trump hats, and they’ll come up to me afterwards and say, “I’m an Always-Trumper, but you’ve put me in a difficult position.”
BW: But if I’m an Always-Trumper, why am I going to vote for you when I could vote for Trump? Why would I go for New Coke when I could just have Coke?
VR: Do you want a two-liter bottle that’s been in the fridge, and doesn’t have the same fizz that it did when you first popped the cork? I’m sticking to your analogy, not mine! But that’s really the question. I’ve got fresh legs. I’m 37. I’m going further than Trump did. And I think the part that’s most persuasive is the truth: thirty percent of this country becomes psychiatrically ill, maybe deranged, when Trump is in office. It’s just a fact. It’s like a law of nature in the United States of America in the 2020s. Republicans start identifying as Democrats. You have people who disagree with things that they otherwise would have agreed with because of the person who’s actually articulating the view. You have people agreeing with things they would have never agreed with because a particular person happens to be in the White House. It’s psychological derangement for at least thirty percent or more of this country. And I think our base sees that I’m not having that effect on people, even as I’m saying many of the same things that Trump is saying, even when I’m going even further than Trump.
BW: That’s because surely you understand that character matters. In other words, I don’t believe that I have Trump Derangement Syndrome. I can look at a lot of Trump’s policies, not least the Abraham Accords, and say, yeah, that was a good thing. And yet, I look at the way that Trump dismantled the moral guardrails that keep bigotry to the fringes, the way he normalized things that should be stigmatized, the way that he played to people’s basest instincts. I believe there could be no policy that is as important as keeping civility and unity in our democracy.
VR: This is the standard I want you to hold me to when hopefully I’m the next president. I want you to be able to look your daughter in the eye. I want to be able to look my two sons in the eye and be able to say, “I want you to grow up and be like him.” So if you agree with putting this country first, the interests of the United States of America first, to revive the principles enshrined in our Constitution, but in a way that unites us as one nation bound by those radical ideals that set this nation into motion 250 years ago, then I am better positioned to do that than anybody else in this race, including Donald Trump. This is why I believe that most of his base, by January or February next year, and most of the rest of the Republican Party will be coming along with us. I expect to win not only the general election, but likely the primary by a wide margin. And I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
On Trump, January 6, and censorship:
BW: Almost a third of Americans still believe that the 2020 election was stolen, and I want to look at what you have said about this issue. In the days following January 6, you said, “What Trump did last week was wrong, downright abhorrent, plain and simple. . . . The breach of the Capitol is a stain on American history.” You also said that it was “Trump victimhood that failed the country. He lost the election. He should have admitted it and moved on.”
But here’s what you’re saying now: “It is a mistake to blame January 6 on Donald Trump.” You claim that “pervasive censorship” is what led to January 6 and that the “2020 election was stolen in a limited sense. . . and would have been different if the Hunter Biden laptop story had not been suppressed.” What changed?
VR: I’m glad you’re asking me this, and it’s just been a lesson to me on how distortive the media actually has been already this early in the race. I’m not condoning what Trump did. What he did was wrong. But the real cause of what happened on January 6 was censorship. I have said the same thing in my book, Nation of Victims, which came out a little over a year ago, and I’m saying the same thing today. I said the real election that was stolen from Trump was the 2016 election. He wasn’t able to govern for the first two years as effectively as he might have done. I also believe that the Hunter Biden laptop story, if unsuppressed, would have likely changed the outcome of what was otherwise a very close election. Most Americans did not have access to that story because it was systematically suppressed.
I have also said that I have seen no evidence of systematic ballot fraud that would have overturned the result of the 2020 election. And so it is a mistake for us to conflate a bad decision with illegal behavior. It is also different from saying that we’re going to pin what happened that day—which was a deep issue and a deep suffering in our country that boiled over that day—at the feet of one man. We’re making a mistake if we miss the real thing, which is a year of telling people that you have to stay locked down in your basement, to shut up, sit down, and do as you’re told, unless you’re antifa and BLM, in which case you can burn down the streets of Portland. You can’t say that it came from a lab in Wuhan or we shouldn’t be locked down without having your social media account censored. Then you get an election to set the straight, except if you actually send a message of a New York Post story, your account is shut down. You tell people they can’t speak; that’s when they scream. You tell people they can’t scream; that’s when they tear things down. I do believe that January 6 was a product of a year of systematic censorship.
We need to understand that diagnosis and admit it with clear eyes. I think every American should look himself or herself in the mirror and ask, “What role did I play in creating the conditions for January 6?” I think that’s a national reckoning we’re going to have to go through, and I fear we will see far worse in the future unless we go through that honest self-reckoning.
BW: Last month, Trump was indicted for a second time. Then, of course, there’s this third indictment looming over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Is this the long-awaited return of the rule of law? Is this justice? Or is this partisan politics at its worst?
VR: I respond to facts and I believe that the first two indictments are politically motivated persecutions. They’re distortions of the law. And I think that they set an awful precedent for our country that in absence of extraordinary leadership from a Republican, who comes next is going to set a dangerous precedent for the party in power, using police force to indict and arrest their political opponents. I am deeply worried about this.
On the culture wars and filling America’s God-shaped void:
BW: You are the anti-woke crusader. You wrote an entire book about it. You mentioned in this conversation that you left biotech to quote, “focus on a different kind of cancer, a cultural cancer that threatened to kill the American dream.” Convince the skeptical listener that the culture war isn’t a distraction. And if it’s not a distraction, convince me that it’s actually a winning political issue. Because I look at the campaign of Ron DeSantis, I look at his falling poll numbers, and I look at the fact he’s chosen to die on the hill of library books and Disney, and I think even if you think the culture war matters, does it actually matter to ordinary voters?
VR: I wrote Woke, Inc. at a time where everyone advised me not to even use that word in the title because no one knew what it meant. I will tell you that I think that these issues relating to identity—racial identity, gender identity, identity in relation to the climate—are important issues because they give us a lens into what’s really going on in our country. We are starved for purpose and meaning and identity. I don’t call it the culture war. It’s reductionist. It means different things to different people. It’s nonspecific. But the topics that some refer to as the culture war are important because they give us a prism to understand what’s really going on. The deeper cancer is not wokeism. The real cancer I’m talking about is that void, that black hole of purpose and meaning and identity. And when you have a vacuum that runs that deep, a lot of poison is going to fill that void. Yes, it might be wokeism, transgenderism, climate-ism, Covid-ism, globalism. . .
VR: Any -ism. But it might also be depression, anxiety, fentanyl, suicide. . . all of which are up. To me, it’s even the economy. Many of our economic struggles are downstream of this deeper existential void of purpose and meaning and identity in our country. I do think that is a winning issue: filling that void of purpose and meaning with a vision of American national identity and what it means to be an American.
BW: So you believe the reason people are drawn to all of these -isms is because they’re desperately trying to fill an existential, maybe God-shaped hole inside of them. Is that right?
VR: Yes. That is the premise of my candidacy. That is my diagnosis of our country, and that is the void that we must fill. I don’t see a single other candidate stepping up to fill that void. Not all of that is going to be done through policy. A lot of this is done through the character of leadership that we bring to the helm of this nation, and that is a gaping hole not just in our hearts, but in our electoral politics of today. I think Reagan is probably the last president to actually do that in a successful way. In his farewell speech, he said he was proud of the revival of national character that we lacked when he took office in January of 1981. I think that we currently live in that 1979, 1980 kind of moment.
BW: I think about the beautiful way that you just put that, the way that you’re talking about the need to restore a national character, and I cannot square that with your support of Donald Trump.
VR: Bari, I’m voting for myself in this election. I’m supporting myself. I’m running to unite one nation. I have what you would call hardcore “America first” instincts. Donald Trump didn’t invent America first. Neither did Ronald Reagan, for that matter. George Washington did. I believe that most of us share those same principles in common. I care deeply about uniting this country, but we’re not going to get to national unity through compromise. I think the way we will get to national unity is by embracing the radicalism of the American Revolution, actually, the radicalism of those ideals, of putting our nation first; the ideals that define what it even means to be an American. Our diversity is not our strength. Our strength is what unites us across our diversity, and I care deeply about reviving that common thread that unites us across those different attributes. I believe we will get there. I believe that our base, our MAGA base, the base I am part of, cares deeply about national unity. That is what gives me hope that this is a different moment than the moment the nation was in as recently as four or eight years ago.
BW: During your time as an undergraduate at Harvard, you went by the stage name Da Vek and rapped Eminem covers and freestyled songs about the free market. What is your favorite Eminem song?
VR: “Lose Yourself” tops the list. But “ ’Till I Collapse” is probably a close second.
BW: Who’s your favorite comedian?
VR: Dave Chappelle.
BW: Greatest American hero, living or dead?
VR: Thomas Jefferson.
BW: Who is the Democrat you most admire that’s currently in office?
VR: I’d say Bernie Sanders in 2015.
BW: Okay. Let’s do one-word answers for the following. Ron DeSantis is. . .
VR: A candidate for U.S. president.
BW: Tucker Carlson is?
BW: Tim Scott?
VR: Optimistic and a good man.
BW: Nikki Haley?
VR: A candidate for U.S. president.
BW: Chris Christie?
BW: RFK Jr.?
BW: Mike Pence?
VR: A good, Christian man.
BW: Joe Biden?
VR: Old and on his way out.
BW: Randi Weingarten?
VR: Toxic influence on our country.
BW: January 6: what word would you use to describe what happened that day?
BW: Bitcoin. Bullish or bearish?
BW: If you become the nominee, who would you choose to be your vice presidential candidate?
VR: I haven’t decided yet.
BW: Would you be Trump’s veep if he asked you?
BW: If you don’t win the nomination, what is it that you want to do next?
VR: I am very focused on being our next president.
BW: Convince the listener to vote for you in one sentence or less.
VR: This is still the country where no matter who you are, or where your parents came from, or what your skin color is, that you can get ahead based on your own hard work and commitment and dedication, and that you are free to speak your mind at every step of the way—that is the American dream, and that is what I am leading us to; we are running to that dream and we will get there.
BW: Okay, a lot of commas, but I will count that as one sentence. Vivek, thank you for coming on.
We’re hosting our first live, in-person event on September 13 at the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles! Musician and producer Grimes and Sarah Haider, writer and co-host of the podcast A Special Place in Hell, will go head-to-head with Anna Khachiyan, co-host of the podcast Red Scare, and Louise Perry, author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, to debate the following proposition: the sexual revolution has failed.
You can purchase tickets now at thefp.com/debates.
This will be the first in a series of debates brought to you by The Free Press. We’re proud to present this one in partnership with FIRE, America’s leading civil liberties organization.
And to support more vital conversation, become a Free Press subscriber today: