Ohioan Vivek Ramaswamy isn’t the frontrunner in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but he was front and center in the first GOP debate Wednesday night.
Other candidates used the first debate to go after Ramaswamy as he rises in the polls, focusing largely on his inexperience in elected office. The attacks on the Cincinnati-area native and Columbus-area resident far outweighed those against former President Donald Trump, who skipped Wednesday’s debate and remains the most popular GOP candidate.
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“I’ve had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT stand up here,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said. “The last person in one of these debates who stood in the middle of the stage and said, ‘what’s a skinny guy with an odd last name doing up here’ was Barack Obama, and I’m afraid we’re dealing with the same type of amateur standing on stage tonight.”
Who is Vivek Ramaswamy? Ohio presidential candidate takes stage in first GOP debate
Christie was referencing Ramaswamy’s first comments on stage Wednesday: “Let me just address the question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight: Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name, and what the heck is he doing in the middle of this debate stage?”
Ramaswamy, a biotech investor and entrepreneur who lives near Columbus and is from Cincinnati, entered the race earlier this year promising to out-Trump the former president. Since then, he’s used personal wealth and a strong media presence to boost his campaign, and recent polls show him jumping to third place behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Taking a page from Trump, Ramaswamy is trying to cultivate an outsider image and said Wednesday that he’s the only candidate “not bought and paid for.”
“For a long time, we had professional politicians in the Republican Party who have been running from something. Now is our moment to start running to something,” Ramaswamy said. “To our vision of what it means to be an American today. If you have a broken car, you don’t turn over the keys to the people who broke it again.”
Ramaswamy takes heat during Republican debate
Ramaswamy’s opponents weren’t having it.
Ramaswamy was the only candidate to say he opposes more U.S. aid for Ukraine, which drew attacks from former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Vice President Mike Pence. Haley accused him of “choosing a murderer over a pro-American country.”
“Under your watch, you would make America less safe,” said Haley, who also served as governor of South Carolina. “You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”
Pence sparred with Ramaswamy multiple times throughout the night. He called the Ohioan a “rookie” and said now is not the time for “on the job training.” Pence also disagreed with Ramaswamy’s belief that America is in the midst of a national identity crisis.
“We just need government as good as our people,” Pence said.
It’s unclear what, if any, effect the debate will have on Ramaswamy’s popularity and the race overall. Trump continues to lead his closest opponent, DeSantis, by double digits in the polls, and he remains popular among Republican voters in Ohio and across the country.
When Trump’s recent indictments came up on Wednesday, Ramaswamy reiterated his pledge to pardon the former president for any alleged federal crimes. He also called Trump the “best president of the 21st century.”
“If people at home want to see a bunch of people blindly bashing Donald Trump without an iota of vision for this country, they can just change the channel to MSNBC right now,” Ramaswamy said. “But I’m not running for president of MSNBC. I am running for president of the United States.”
USA TODAY contributed to this report.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: GOP debate: Vivek Ramaswamy takes heat from Mike Pence, Chris Christie