Call it creative destruction, political chaos, or a bit of both, but Vivek Ramaswamy now threatens war with the Republican National Committee. The biotech-entrepreneur-turned-presidential candidate is demanding RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel release criteria for qualifying for the primary debates – or else.
If she doesn’t make those details public by the end of the month, Ramaswamy said he would not abide by the so-called “loyalty pledge,” requiring all GOP candidates to support whoever wins the nomination.
“I’m actually going to amend that right now,” Ramaswamy told RealClearPolitics of his initial promise to abide by the agreement, “and just say that I will do that, and I think everyone should do that, if – and only if – Ronna doesn’t play games.”
“Ronna, you want that to be a criteria? Then don’t play games and say what the criteria are for making the dang debate stage,” he said addressing his frustration directly to the party chair. “It is just that simple. This is not complicated.”
The 2024 primary season already promises to be raucous and the debate stage crowded. Just three candidates have officially entered the race: former President Donald Trump, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and Ramaswamy. At least half a dozen other Republicans are expected to compete for the nomination.
“If you’re going to be on the Republican National Committee debate stage asking voters to support you,” McDaniel told CNN last month, “you should say, I’m going to support the voters and who they choose as the nominee.” She called it “a no-brainer.”
But if Ramaswamy breaks faith with the party, creating a template for other candidates to follow, the RNC could have a headache on their hands at the exact moment they want to focus all their efforts on defeating President Biden. He is already causing trouble, arguing that the fact McDaniel hasn’t released the debate rules already “smells like corruption to me.”
The GOP brass, well, they are a little bewildered by all of this. Although Ramaswamy is well educated and highly successful in the business world – and an articulate conservative voice in the culture wars – he’s unknown in Republican political circles, And other than a few skirmishes, most of the field has focused their fire on Democrats, not on the Republican political apparatus. One senior RNC official insisted that the party isn’t corrupt. If anything, he said, the party is on schedule.
The debate committee is working right now to put together the rules, Richard Walters told RCP, and has “pledged to be neutral and transparent throughout this process.” That body is currently considering qualification criteria, network partners, and other relevant details, he added, “which will be released at a later date.”
The first primary debate, slated for Milwaukee, isn’t until August, meaning that typically, it wouldn’t be releasing the conditions book this early anyway. . But first-time candidate Ramaswamy wants the details earlier than normal. His first conversation with the RNC chair didn’t go well.
When McDaniel called in February to welcome him to the race, Ramaswamy said he asked how candidates would qualify for the debate stage and what rules would govern that contest. He said the party chair told him that they were “going to see how it goes,” an answer “which didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth, to be honest, because what does that mean?” Ramaswamy texted the same question to McDaniel again Thursday morning without receiving a reply.
A party source familiar with the conversation rejected that characterization altogether, telling RCP late Thursday evening that “the first time he ever asked for debate criteria was over text today. He did not ask about it during their discussion over the phone.”
Ramaswamy likened the dispute to the RNC leadership race when concerns about “stultified party leadership” fueled a challenge to McDaniel. “Both political parties have not earned trust with their base by hiding the ball,” he said before pointing to the populist uprising on the other side of the aisle that left Democrats reeling for a time. “And given the games that the DNC has played with Bernie Sanders, I think it’s important for the Republican Party to be better than that – to really operate with a level of transparency that builds trust in the primary process.”
Adding insult to injury in his eyes, when McDaniel called in February, she invited him to an April RNC donor retreat where several 2024 contenders are slated to speak. It would be an opportunity to meet with supporters. It was not, however, a chance to get on stage. “I almost thought it was laughable,” Ramaswamy recalled thinking, “that she would invite me to come be in the audience and mill around.”
A source familiar with that conversation said that McDaniel had “proactively” made the invitation but confirmed that “the speaking slots were already full.” Ramaswamy, the source added, was invited to speak at the next finance meeting, noting that he had spoken at a previous RNC meeting.
The kerfuffle comes as Ramaswamy vows to expose “the corruption of the political campaign process itself.” He said earlier this week that his team rebuffed a political consultant who allegedly offered to rig the CPAC straw poll in his favor for a price, an experience that inspired him to reconfigure his campaign into an “open source” transparency project.
Now he fears the RNC might roll out debate rules later this spring to “ex-post facto” allow certain candidates on stage at the expense of others, a move he described as to preserving the “optionality to tip the scales.” Some donors have already told him his candidacy could be “a distraction.”
“I think that they want to see a consolidated field, and I’m taking the airspace and the lane of certain other candidates who have espoused the issues that I’ve championed before they were popular in the Republican Party,” Ramaswamy said pointing in particular to the “anti-woke movement.”
“I’m running to reform the federal government, where corruption is widespread,” he said in reference to his calls to overhaul the administrative state, “but there’s no chance of reforming corruption in the federal government, if you can’t reform it in your own party.”
The RNC had better publish the qualifying rules before March 31, Ramaswamy warned, or they will “rightly be vulnerable to allegations of corruption, and I will not I will not lay light on this.” If he follows through on that threat, the candidate may be the first mover in an uncomfortable political innovation for the Republican Party.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
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