By Kenneth Tiven
A personal feud rarely breaks out in public among our politicians, but it is impossible to overlook the mutual disdain spilling into open view, turning an otherwise substantive debate into political blood sport. There was no artifice to it, no phony attempts to feign collegiality. Just pure, unadulterated loathing. I mean, hearing Nikki Haley say: “You’re just scum,” is not something one politician generally says to another, although nobody can gainsay Haley’s assessment of Vivek Ramaswamy, who seems to have gotten up the noses of millions in his brief time on the national stage.
At 51, Haley is the dutiful Gen X candidate. And Ramaswamy is the best-in-class, wise-guy millennial. Haley is a product of the “New South,” a former governor of a South Carolina on the rise. Ramaswamy was born and raised in Ohio, the Midwestern kid made good. Where Ramaswamy is the flashy entrepreneur from Harvard Yard, Haley, a Clemson University graduate, would be the state school “accountant in the White House”.
The National Review website, a traditional conservative publication, described Ramaswamy’s performance and remarks as “cringe-worthy”. TikTok got Ramaswamy into serious trouble. In defending his own use, he said that Haley’s 25-year-old daughter used to be on the app. Involving a candidate’s child is considered unfair in US politics (Republicans do not consider Hunter Biden a child).
Haley reacted fiercely. “Leave my daughter out of your voice,” Haley sneered. “Just scum”, she added. At an earlier debate, she had ridiculed Ramaswamy, saying: “Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say.” After the debate, Haley said: “Look, I’m a mom, so the second that you go and you start saying something about my 25-year-old daughter, I’m going to get my back up. But it’s not even the personal part—there are serious differences I have with him.”
Ramaswamy uses language to provoke. He told the debate: “We got trounced last night in 2023. And I think that we have to have accountability in our party,” which lost elections in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky earlier this month. However, his focus seemed be on Haley who had accused him previously of using the Chinese-owned app. “She made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time,” he claimed.
She wasn’t his only target. Ramaswamy also accused Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy of being a Nazi. He described territory in eastern Ukraine as Russian, failing to note Moscow had seized it illegally in 2014. The National Review said: “It is fair enough to point out the flaws and failings of Ukraine, but there is no moral equivalence between Kyiv and its Russian invader.” The website summed it up: “Ramaswamy outdid himself last night with cringe-inducing theatrics meant to light up a segment of right-wing social media.”
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels