With Donald Trump snubbing the first Republican presidential debate, it was a political newcomer who captured the spotlight.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a 38 year old investor and entrepreneur, stood out among the eight candidates on the stage by lobbing attacks at his rivals and drawing heavy fire in return, borrowing from another young presidential newcomer from more than a decade ago.
“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?” Ramaswamy said, echoing a comment made by then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Ramaswamy made a brash debut at the Republican presidential debate Wednesday, making himself the center of attention throughout the night. He cast himself as a political outsider, closely aligned himself with Trump, and repeatedly attacked his rivals, declaring them “bought and paid for.”
And his opponents gave it as good as they got.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly jabbed at Ramaswamy and his one-liners, saying early on that he’s “had enough already tonight of a guy who sounds like ChatGPT standing up here.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence called him a “rookie,” saying that “now is not the time for on-the-job training.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley attacked Ramaswamy’s position on providing support for Ukraine, saying that he has “no foreign policy experience, and it shows.”
If Ramaswamy was largely unknown before Wednesday night's debate, he’s certainly not now. He raised $450,000 in the hours after Wednesday's debate in Milwaukee, according to a campaign spokesperson.
“He was able to both be the center of attention with a lot of attacks, and but he also was able to get a lot of points out there,” said Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University. “He was able to take some controversial positions, that aren't majority positions, that will win support such as within the Republican primary voters.”
And, though he made brash statements, some of them were inaccurate, if not flat-out wrong.
"So he's either lying or has a weaker appreciation for the facts," Jones said. That includes baseless claims that people are dying from "bad climate change policies," blaming a "mental health epidemic" for violent crime and framing U.S. cities as in the midst of a "crime wave," as well as the false claim that climate change "is a hoax."
Ramaswamy grew up in Cincinnati, the son of immigrants from India. He graduated from Harvard and Yale Law School before launching a biotech company, earning a fortune.
Today, he’s a full-time culture warrior who has authored books -- including one titled "Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America's Social Justice Scam" -- and frequently appears on conservative media.
Ramaswamy repeatedly played up his youth during the debate — as well as before, posting a video of himself playing tennis without a shirt.
But how far will Ramaswamy’s debate performance take him?
“I don't think Ramaswamy is really running for president as too much running for say a position in a future Trump White House as well as just to improve his own brand, for personal or financial reasons,” Jones said. “I think in that sense, he has really succeeded and that he's been able to put himself above all that third tier group.”
Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, also had a breakout moment, when she zeroed in on Ramasawamy’s foreign policy views.
“You want to go and defund Israel. You want to give Taiwan to China. Do you want to go and give Ukraine to Russia?” Haley asked, slamming a door on Ramaswamy’s isolationist platform.
Jones said that Haley “presented herself as the adult in the room that was able to rise above the fray."
“The difficulty for her though, is that Republican primary voters these days don't seem to be too much interested in consensus building, or pragmatic politics," Jones added.
The next debate will be in September at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. There are likely to be fewer candidates on stage — the Republican Party has narrowed polling and donor restrictions ahead of the second debate — but based on his current trajectory, Ramaswamy seems likely to take part.