Vivek Ramaswamy, the breakout star of the first Republican primary debate, summarised his views in a final address, telling the cameras: “God is real. There are two genders. Fossil fuels are a requirement for human prosperity. Reverse racism is racism. An open border is not a border. Parents determine the education of their children. The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to man. Capitalism lifts us up from poverty.”
The manifesto is designed to place him at the heart of the modern Republican Party, which is battling Joe Biden on culture war issues, and attacking his decision to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on climate subsidies.
To his acolytes, the millionaire entrepreneur is the natural successor to Donald Trump, a self-declared “outsider” who is “not a politician” and would run the federal government on the model of Elon Musk.
But can that pitch get him to the White House?
His rivals certainly think so. The fact that Mr Ramaswamy attracted the most criticism from other candidates on Wednesday night showed he is considered by them to be a major threat.
The 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur has surged in the polls in recent weeks as Ron DeSantis’s campaign has floundered, prompting rumours he could become Mr Trump’s running mate – or even beat him to the nomination.
His election, just shy of his 40th birthday, would make him the youngest ever US president and the first Indian-American to hold the office.
During the first debate, he declared himself the “skinny guy with a funny last name”, acknowledged his lack of political experience, and set out a pitch of socially conservative, “anti-woke” policy.
Mr Ramaswamy was born in Ohio in 1985 to Hindu Indian immigrants, and built a career as a hedge fund investor after stints at both Harvard and Yale, where he met his future wife Apoorva Tewari.
The couple have two young sons, Karthik and Arjun, and he has described his wife, a laryngologist, as a “leader in her own way, in her own unique world”.
In 2014, he added to his $350 million fortune with Roivant Sciences, a biotech company that has had success buying patents from larger companies for drugs that had not yet been fully developed and marketed.
Now, according to the poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, he is placed fourth among the Republican candidates, with 6.3 per cent of the vote compared with Ron DeSantis’s 13.9 per cent and Mr Trump’s 54 per cent.
The polling numbers had other candidates worried. In the second debate, Nikki Haley lashed out at him, saying: “Honestly every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say”.
In the first event, Mike Pence described him as a “rookie”, and Chris Christie joked that he “sounds like ChatGPT”.
So far, his pitch has been successful with evangelical Christian voters, a base Mr DeSantis is also attempting to please, but Mr Ramaswamy will need the backing of a significant number of Trump voters to have any hope of winning the nomination.
When candidates were asked whether they would still support Mr Trump as the Republican nominee if he is convicted in Georgia, where he faces accusations that he ran a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election, Mr Ramaswamy was the first to jump to his defence.
He has previously said he would pardon Mr Trump of any convictions that result from two federal trials in Washington and Florida.
The pitch earned the praise of Donald Trump Jr, who told reporters in the debate’s spin room: “I thought he had a standout performance. I mean, I think that (he) did what Ron DeSantis needed to do.”
This time around, Mr Ramaswamy engaged in a more traditional politicking that was out of character, undercutting one of his biggest selling points: his claim to authenticity.
Mr Ramaswamy’s strategy for stealing Mr Trump’s support is based on taking his “excellent” policies further with what he describes as “America First 2.0”.
He is sceptical of both climate change and the war in Ukraine, two key issues for Republican voters, and has lent harder into culture war issues like abortion, transgender rights and racial politics.
Asked if he would increase military support for Ukraine, he said any more funding would be “disastrous” and amounted to “protecting against an invasion across somebody else’s border when we should use those same military resources to prevent the invasion of our own southern border here in the United States”.
On climate change, his pitch that the US should “unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear” is an attempt to position himself against Mr Biden’s flagship Inflation Reduction Act, which has pumped $291 billion into green technology.
‘It’s going to take an outsider’
Like Mr Trump in 2016, Mr Ramaswamy has lent on his credentials as a businessman and attempted to deflect attacks that he has no political experience.
Even though he has previously said he is not interested in serving as Mr Trump’s vice president, this is a line that will be tested if he does not have a credible chance of outstripping him by the end of the year.
In an interview last month, Mr Ramaswamy softened his position significantly on whether he would serve as Mr Trump’s vice president.
Asked by GB News whether he would become Mr Trump’s running mate if the former president wins the Republican nomination, he said: “See, this isn’t about me. If this were about me, sure. That’s a fine position for someone to have at my age.
“This is about reviving our country and I can only reunite this country if I’m doing it from the White House as the leader and the face of our movement.”
He added that he had “fresh legs” and would ask Mr Trump to serve as his “most valued adviser” if he won the presidency next year.
Previously, Mr Ramaswamy has said he is “not interested in a different position in the government” and would prefer to work in the private sector.
“Let me just address a question that is on everybody’s mind at home tonight,” he told the audience on Wednesday.
“Who is this skinny guy with a funny last name and what the heck are you doing in the middle of this debate stage?”
He added that he was “not a politician” but an entrepreneur, arguing: “I do think that it’s going to take an outsider.”
The next major hurdle for Mr Ramaswamy will be to convert his early wins into political donations to sustain his campaign until the Iowa caucus on January 15.
He is currently fourth in the cash race, behind Mr Trump, Tim Scott and Mr DeSantis, but contributions will likely pick up as his polling improves.
The Milwaukee debate was a breakout moment for Mr Ramaswamy, who is now facing increasingly vicious attacks from the other candidates as they attempt to slow his rise.
The formal race for the Republican nominee has only just begun, but it is already clear that Mr Ramswamy is one of the most important candidates to watch.