Ramaswamy’s deep ties to rightwing kingpins revealed

Vivek Ramaswamy has described himself as an “outsider”, accusing rivals for the Republican presidential nomination of being “bought and paid for” by donors and special interests.

But the 38-year-old Ohio-based venture capitalist, whose sharp-elbowed and angry display stood out in the first Republican debate this week, has his own close ties to influential figures from both sides of the political aisle.

Related: Combative Vivek Ramaswamy emerges as surprise focal point of GOP debate

Prominent among such connections are Peter Thiel, the co-founder of tech giants PayPal and Palantir and a rightwing mega-donor, and Leonard Leo, the activist who has marshaled unprecedented sums in his push to stock federal courts with conservative judges.

Ramaswamy is a Yale Law School friend of JD Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir Hillbilly Elegy who enjoyed success in finance before entering politics. At Yale, Vance and Ramaswamy attended what the New Yorker called an “intimate lunch seminar for select students” that was hosted by Thiel. Last year, backed by Thiel and espousing hard-right Trumpist views, Vance won a US Senate seat in Ohio.

Thiel has since said he has stepped back from political donations. But he has backed Ramaswamy’s business career, supporting what the New Yorker called “a venture helping senior citizens access Medicare” and, last year, backing Strive Asset Management, a fund launched by Ramaswamy to attack environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies among corporate investors. Vance was also a backer.

Ramaswamy’s primary vehicle to success has been Roivant, an investment company focused on the pharmaceuticals industry founded in 2014.

The Roivant advisory board includes figures from both the Republican and Democratic establishments: Kathleen Sebelius, US health secretary under Barack Obama; Tom Daschle of South Dakota, formerly Democratic leader in the US Senate; and Olympia Snowe, formerly a Republican senator from Maine.

Ramaswamy’s links to Leo – recently the recipient of a $1.6bn donation from the industrialist Barre Seid, believed to be the biggest ever such gift, but now reportedly the subject an investigation by the attorney general of Washington DC – are many.

As reported by ProPublica and Documented, Ramaswamy has spoken at retreats staged by Teneo, a group Leo chairs and which aims to connect high-powered conservatives, to “crush liberal dominance” in American life.

Other Teneo speakers have reportedly included Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor polling ahead of Ramaswamy in the Republican primary, and the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who trails Ramaswamy and clashed with him on stage in Milwaukee.

ProPublica also linked Thiel to the genesis of the Teneo group. According to a document seen by the Guardian, Ramaswamy became a Teneo member in 2021.

Elsewhere, Ramaswamy is a board member of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a group with ties to Leo, and a member of the Federalist Society, the Leo-driven group which works to stock the courts with conservatives.

Ramaswamy has also spoken to and received an award from the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF), a group of Republican state treasurers.

In June, in South Carolina, the Post and Courier newspaper reported that last year, before launching his presidential bid, Ramaswamy attempted “to leverage his [Republican] connections to gain access [for Strive] to lucrative contracts to manage pension funds … [with] total assets of $39.6bn”.

Similar pushes were mounted in Missouri and Indiana, the paper said. Curtis Loftis, the South Carolina state treasurer, told the Post and Courier there was “nothing improper” about such approaches.

Asked about Ramaswamy’s claims to be an outsider in light of his links to rightwing donors, activists and establishment figures, a campaign spokesperson told the Guardian: “Vivek has lived the American dream and has had tremendous success in business.

“There’s a colossal difference between someone who has friendships and business relationships with wealthy individuals and politicians who change their policies and positions to please their Super Pac donors,” they added.


In the Wisconsin debate, Ramaswamy flourished in the absence of Donald Trump, the former US president who faces 91 criminal charges but nonetheless leads Republican polling by huge margins.

Amid speculation that Ramaswamy might end up Trump’s running mate, Reed Galen, a Republican operative turned co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, called Ramaswamy “a classic 2020s America tech bro bullshit artist … Trump for the 21st century”.

Ramaswamy’s claim to be an outsider, Galen said, was part of his “fundamental understanding … that Maga [the pro-Trump Republican base] wants him to show that the rest of these people [in the primary] are politicians. He’s willing to be the showman … the outsider. Anti-establishment. ‘If anything is there, I dislike it because it’s there.’ You know, ‘I’m going to have fun with this. I’m not going to take it seriously because you’re a bunch of hacks and goons.’”

Related: Rightwing activist Leonard Leo under investigation in Washington DC

But in another sense, regarding Ramaswamy’s ties to the likes of Leo and Thiel, Galen said: “I think that he’s an insider.

“He walks into a room with Leonard Leo and says, ‘What do you need me to do?’ … And they’re like, ‘Here’s what we want you to do. Here’s what we need you to do.’ Right?

“Do I think [Ramaswamy] cares about [issues like restricting] abortion? No, not particularly. I don’t think he has a firmly held belief on it. But if he thinks that it will help him, and in exchange for that Leonard Leo will throw a little chicken feed of the $1.6bn that old man gave him, to help him? Sure, what the hell?

“He didn’t ever think he’d get this far. So now he’s just gonna push it as far as he can.”

Ramaswamy, Galen said, was closely tied to a world of donors and non-profits in which Leo is “certainly at the center. And this movement only moves in one direction, and it’s toward the darkness. It’s towards authoritarianism. And it’s because it finds people like Ramaswamy. And the more that all these other candidates will now attack him, they will drive him further and further into the arms of those people.”

Leave a Comment