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Anti-ESG crusader wants to take Trump’s agenda to ‘next level’

Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is basing his long-shot Republican campaign for president in 2024 on persuading even hard-core supporters of Donald Trump that he can take the former president’s “America First” agenda “to the next level.”

Ramaswamy, a leading crusader against investing based on environmental, social and governance principles, said his proposals, such as ending affirmative action, go further than Trump’s but avoid a national divorce between Democrats and Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has proposed.

“It’s not a critique of what he didn’t do, but it’s the question of who’s going to be best positioned to take this to the next level,” Ramaswamy said of Trump in an interview after speaking on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington. “I think voters are very receptive to that pitch.”

Ramaswamy announced his candidacy last month, joining former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson as the first declared challengers to Trump. Other Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, are expected to join the race.

Polls suggest that Trump, who’s delivering the closing keynote speech at the four-day CPAC on Saturday, has the solid backing of about 30% of Republicans. But surveys also show a majority of GOP voters are willing to consider an alternative candidate who supports Trump’s policies without his political baggage and is better positioned to defeat President Joe Biden.

Ramaswamy, 37, a native of southwestern Ohio, began his career as a biotech investor after getting a biology degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale while working as a hedge-fund partner. He has founded companies, including Roivant Sciences in 2014.

He’s the author of Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam and co-founded Strive Asset Management, which launched last year after issuers such as BlackRock Inc. promoted ESG funds in recent years.

Ramaswamy declined to say how much of his wealth he’s willing to spend on his presidential bid but said he would make “a meaningful investment” for a combination of self-funding and small-dollar contributions.

“Historically, a lot of self-funders are business guys who think just because they’ve had success in business that entitles them to run the country,” Ramaswamy said. “What’s different about my candidacy is I’m actually running on an affirmative vision for the country. It’s not that, ‘Hey, I had success in the private sector, therefore I ought to do this.”’

DeSantis’ theme

Ramaswamy would bring business expertise to what could be a crowded 2024 Republican roster. By going after ESG, he is targeting one of the favorite lanes of DeSantis, who’s widely expected to jump into the race and is leading Trump in some early polls.

But Ramaswamy said he has a deeper understanding of ESG than any other politician as someone “who was talking about these issues long before any Republican politician had even heard of them.”

During his speech at CPAC on Friday, Ramaswamy decried what he called the “three secular religions in America” — racial identity, gender and climate change — and said he’s running because the US is in the midst of a national “identity crisis.”

He’s vowing to end affirmative action and eliminate federal agencies, starting with the Department of Education. He’s also calling for ending the Federal Bureau of Investigation and building a replacement from scratch.

“The ones who are changing their minds from Trump or DeSantis to me which we’re seeing day by day — among the people who are in the room with me at least we’re seeing day by day — I think is in part driven by my willingness to take on the issues that the others won’t,” he said.

___ ©2023 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published March 4, 2023, 7:53 PM.

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