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The Rapid Ascent of Vivek Ramaswamy
The millionaire biotech CEO and newly minted right-wing firebrand isn't going away.
[Screenshot via Hillsdale College YouTube Channel]
In early 2019, feeling stressed about the instability characteristic to freelance journalism, I started looking for jobs in other industries. It wasn’t the first time – my forays into corporate life seem invariably short-lived, reminding me that writing is probably what I should be doing. But at the time, I had a young child, and journalism, as a place where you could make a steady middle-class living, seemed to be in terminal decline. So I applied for whatever I could find, blasting my resume all over LinkedIn, reaching out to my friends in advertising and tech, promising, sure, why not, I’ll do communications for a do-nothing startup or a nonprofit that protects endangered cats. I was financially desperate, worn out, and open to something new.
That’s the windup for a rare disclaimer: through a series of events that I’m contractually prevented from sharing, I landed a job at Roivant, a well-funded biotech startup whose founder, Vivek Ramaswamy, is now running for the Republican nomination for president. In January 2019, I was hired to essentially be a corporate ghostwriter at Roivant, though as is clear, the job didn’t stick, and after two months, I was politely sent on my way. I signed an NDA before interviewing and I signed an NDA before starting the job. (When accepting my severance payment, I signed a non-disparagement agreement, though I’m grateful to the National Labor Relations Board for recently banning the practice.)
The truth is that I didn’t learn any important secrets or privileged information in my brief time at Roivant. I encourage business and tech journalists to look into the company and form their own opinions. Everything I present in this post is informed by public information and reporting in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the biotech press, social media posts, and Ramaswamy’s public appearances. I would like to be released from my NDA(s) because I consider the practice to be a coercive impingement on free speech from corporate authorities who are all too happy to suppress workers’ rights. But for the purposes of writing about Ramaswamy as a political figure, a role he assumed after I left Roivant, I am relying on publicly available information, which I consider sufficient here.
For the uninitiated, Ramaswamy is a 37-year-old biotech and finance mogul who’s carved out a minor following in media and politics in the last two years by preaching against “woke capitalism.” He’s polled in the low single digits so far this campaign cycle – a not insignificant achievement, given his low profile. A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he’s the author of several books and was a regular on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. I’m not sure if Ramaswamy is a billionaire – some of his Roivant stock options are underwater – but his net worth is at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He and his wife “made $238.7 million from 2014 to 2021,” according to the WSJ, citing tax filings. And he’s formed the political and professional associations that seem to guarantee his ascension into a higher level of wealth, power, and influence.
That’s ultimately why I think Ramaswamy is worth writing about. There’s an understandable tendency in today’s discourse to dismiss quixotic stunt presidential candidacies the way one would an annoying viral meme. Just don’t write about it; ignore it and it will go away. But I don’t think Ramaswamy is going away, even if he inevitably sputters out during the primaries. If he doesn’t receive a plum appointment in a future Republican administration – he reportedly enjoyed a friendly dinner with Donald Trump and, according to the Times, is friends with Jared Kushner – then he will continue on his glidepath to becoming an influential conservative business/political/media figure in the mold of Peter Thiel or Bill Ackman, who are both investors in Strive Asset Management, Ramaswamy’s investment firm that has an explicitly anti-ESG focus. According to the company, “Strive’s mission is to restore the voices of everyday citizens in the American economy by leading companies to focus on excellence over politics.” Emphasizing a mantra of lost American “excellence,” Ramaswamy has already conquered the meritocracy and the glad-handing world of venture capital-fueled startups; now he’s applying himself to politics.
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Ramaswamy is polished, young, smart, rich, and incredibly well connected. He’s essentially been drafted into the PayPal mafia network and the lucrative channels of investment and political fundraising that come with it. Besides Thiel and Ackman, Strive’s investors include JD Vance’s Narya Capital and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale. Ramaswamy has invested alongside Thiel in several conservative-friendly projects, including the video platform Rumble and a now-failed “anti-woke” bank. Ramaswamy’s political positions – an obsession with woke business practices, climate change denial, transphobia, a proposal to invade Mexico to fight drug cartels, an initiative to arm every Taiwanese household against a Chinese invasion – strike me as horrific and occasionally insane, if not calibrated to produce a certain kind of MAGA-adjacent support.
A regular on Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, Ramaswamy’s political rise has apparently been blessed by Rupert Murdoch, with whom Ramaswamy met in April. Besides publishing Ramaswamy’s broadsides against corporations trying to monetize the cause of social justice, the Journal has granted him extensive coverage since his presidential announcement, including publishing a piece in February explaining his decision to run for president. With his experience in finance, and having raised more than a billion dollars from the SoftBank Vision Fund and other investors for Roivant, Ramaswamy is very much the sort of political figure who a conservative business establishment can get behind. He’s one of them.
As a public figure, Ramaswamy strikes me as extraordinarily ambitious, a MAGA-friendly firebrand who seems to have little empathy for his opponents, including the trans people to whom he would deny healthcare and political protections. I don’t know what his real, genuinely felt political and social beliefs are, or if he has any – a potentially useful ambiguity, given that he seems fiercely dedicated to his personal enrichment and empowerment. If Donald Trump were not by far the most popular right-wing political figure, I could see Ramaswamy modeling his political program – unbridled Wall Street capitalism meets ruthless anti-woke culture warring – on someone else perhaps less odious.
But it doesn’t matter. We live in an age of manufactured kayfabe and easily spread lies, of people LARPing roles until they effectively become them. The effect is the same. When Ramaswamy appears on cable news saying he thinks that transgender people are mentally ill or that he wants to lob missiles into Mexico or abolish the Department of Education, I take him at his word.