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OPINION - Skinny guy with the funny name out to topple the big guns

Vivek Ramaswamy arrives to take part in the first Republican Presidential primary debate (AFP via Getty Images)
Vivek Ramaswamy arrives to take part in the first Republican Presidential primary debate (AFP via Getty Images)

Not for the first time in recent US political history, a “skinny guy with a funny last name” is bidding to upend the White House race.

Back in 2007, Barack Obama was the relative unknown when he announced a long-shot bid to seize the Democratic nomination for the upcoming presidential election. His hope-fuelled campaign wowed the nation, and the world.

At least the Illinois senator had some political experience. This time, rank novice Vivek Ramaswamy has come from nowhere to wow some Republicans, and did everything to boost his chances at the debate. He even copied Mr Obama’s self-deprecating description of his physique and surname.

“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” former vice-president Mike Pence said (AP)
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” former vice-president Mike Pence said (AP)

Like the Democrat then, Mr Ramaswamy faces accusations today that he is too much of a political rookie. “Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” former vice-president Mike Pence said last night. But in the run up to the Iowa caucuses in January, Mr Ramaswamy has been creeping up the polls among the crowded field of contenders behind Mr Trump, threatening to eclipse Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who appears to be going backwards, and well ahead of Mr Pence.

The Right-wing tech millionaire even out-Trumps Trump in some of his hardline rhetoric. That may please the Republican base, but will it resonate with centrist voters in November 2024? That is still a long way off.

Realistically, Mr Ramaswamy might have to settle for the vice presidential slot on Mr Trump’s ticket, should it be offered. But he insists he is not interested in playing second fiddle, telling Fox News: “Donald Trump and I share something in common in that neither of us does well in a number two position. I’m built to actually lead the organisations that I’ve built.”

But US politics is also littered with examples of candidates cutting deals. And even outsiders in the 2024 Republican field are playing for time, hopeful that Mr Trump’s legal troubles could yet torpedo his campaign.