Vivek Ramaswamy’s fight for the Republican presidential nomination is increasingly turning into a battle with the Republican Party itself.
Ramaswamy’s latest salvo, after he attacked Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel in his opening statement at last week’s GOP debate, includes the launch of a new website: FireRonna.com.
He blames McDaniel for the party’s bad election results since she took over the RNC in 2017, though that’s also when Donald Trump became president. He chafed at the party’s debate rules earlier in the campaign. But it’s more than that: It’s all part of Ramaswamy’s campaign persona as an outsider parachuting in to address a broken system and his attempt to draft off the same anti-insider sentiment that lifted Trump from outsider to leader of the party and the country.
Ramaswamy is sticking to that theme even when he doesn’t have the truth on his side. When he continued to call for McDaniel’s resignation on social media after the debate, he claimed the RNC is “going to cut me off of funding” in retaliation.
The RNC doesn’t fund candidates in primaries, as a spokesperson for the RNC and McDaniel noted. Ramaswamy has mostly self-funded his campaign.
“We’ve become a party of losers at the end of the day,” Ramaswamy said within minutes of the start of last week’s debate.
“It is a cancer to the Republican establishment,” he said, citing the losses the right suffered in states like Ohio and Virginia last week.
Ramaswamy continued by calling for McDaniel’s resignation. “Ronna, if you want to come onstage tonight, you want to look the GOP voters in the eye and tell them you resign, I will turn over my — yield my time to you,” he said.
It might have been a new message for the national TV audience, but they aren’t new talking points for Ramaswamy. In recent weeks, he has been targeting attacks on his own party to small rooms of Republicans in early-voting states like New Hampshire and Iowa.
At a campaign stop in Hampton, New Hampshire, last month, Ramaswamy criticized the RNC for prohibiting him and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from participating in a live broadcast together on Fox News.
To qualify for the RNC debates, Ramaswamy had to sign a pledge not to participate in unsanctioned debates. But he described it to his event audience with more sinister undertones: “They’re trying every means of stopping me from speaking. They said, well, Chris Christie, Fox challenges me to a debate. The RNC says no, we can’t do that. We can’t take the risk of letting them hear from you.”
Ultimately, the RNC sent letters warning Christie’s and Ramaswamy’s campaigns of the possibility of being disqualified from further debates if they went ahead with a TV segment together. They appeared in separate blocks of the show.
Hitting out at the RNC also provides a ready-made conspiracy theory if Ramaswamy fails to make a future debate, though he appears to have met the qualification criteria for the next one already, according to an NBC News polling analysis. On a podcast episode with conservative media personality Benny Johnson last week, Ramaswamy was asked whether he felt he’d be allowed at the fourth GOP debate given his onstage remarks.
“I mean, better be,” he replied. “I don’t think I’m going to get a very warm invitation, but they have set some rules. I’ve already qualified for the fourth debate in early December. I’m sure they’re going to try every trick in the book to silence me or keep me out.”
When NBC News asked Ramaswamy whether he wanted to continue participating in debates if the RNC is the organizer, he snapped back, “It doesn’t belong to her,” referring to McDaniel, adding, “She acts like the party belongs to her.”
And he described himself in terms stretching beyond the party.
“I think that the Republican Party is a party in search of an identity, and I will lead us to revive that identity,” he said. “But I think our nation right now is a nation in search of an identity, and I’m running to lead a nation, and I’m using the Republican Party as a vehicle to do it to advance a pro-American agenda.”
It’s not the first time a presidential candidate has gone to war with his or her own party in a primary campaign — in fact, it’s not even the first time this year.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. started his 2024 campaign as a Democrat before he recently launched an independent run for the White House. That came after he criticized President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee for not setting up debates, though he struggled in polls of the Democratic primary campaign.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and supporters have charged that the 2016 Democratic nominating contest, which Hillary Clinton won by a comfortable margin, was rigged against him.
And Trump delighted in criticizing the RNC and Republican elites when he was still an upstart primary candidate — before he took over the party and installed McDaniel as chair in 2017.
McDaniel brushed off Ramaswamy’s attacks immediately after last week’s debate.
“Everybody’s got to get headlines, right? I’m going to focus on beating Joe Biden,” McDaniel told reporters, also quipping, “He just lost my son’s vote.”
The RNC re-elected McDaniel to a fourth term in January.