Glenn Greenwald
Politics • Writing • Culture
Debate Debrief with Vivek Ramaswamy
Video Transcript
August 25, 2023
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Glenn Greenwald: So first of all, thank you for joining us. We know you're deluged after your performance last night and we appreciate your taking the time to talk to us. I want to delve a little bit into some of the topics that got raised, but not very in-depth, which is the nature of the format. First of all, the pundit expectation, the consensus was that everything was going to focus on Governor DeSantis. Everyone was going to go on stage and talk to DeSantis, given his status, apparently, as the obvious alternative to Donald Trump. That most definitely did not happen. He was essentially ignored. Instead, the focus of the attacks almost entirely was on you. I know the obvious answer is it's because ‘I'm rising in the poll,’ ‘I'm considered a threat’ but beyond that, was there something else going on that caused there to be so much hostility and focus on you from the other candidates? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah, I mean, it's a little bit inside baseball but I think if you look at certainly what our campaign is seeing, when you're looking at actually understanding who the likeliest voters are, who tend to be the most informed, the trends are very sharp in my direction. And so, I think if the other candidates – and one thing you did teach me is that the other candidates are serious about at least trying to win, right? If they weren't serious about actually trying to win, they wouldn't have even bothered. But I think their campaigns understand what our campaign understands, which is that this is effectively a two-horse race between myself and Trump right now, the dynamics of the most informed voter base – and that's where you see a trickle-down effect for everybody else – they're coming in our direction in droves. And so, the headline poll numbers that you'll see are diluted by the fact that most people in this country didn't know who I was four months ago. Right? But of the people who do, so, I'm starting two months ago with a very low name I.D. but seeing our polling against that backdrop, that is striking and largely unseen for a very long time in politics. And so, I think that the other campaign teams have probably smart people working for them, understanding that the DeSantis is not really going to be their obstacle if you roll this to where the puck is going two months from now, and I think they tried to get a head start on that last night, I don't think that it worked out too well for them. 


Glenn Greenwald: Right. So that's the pundit analysis, the kind of horse race analysis to see the validity to that as well. Let me share with you my hypothesis and see whether or not you agree which is there were some very sharp ideological divisions on that stage, typically involving you on the one side and all of these other candidates on the other, because all of these other candidates have a long history in the Republican Party, predating Donald Trump, going back to George Bush, the kind of Reagan economics, Bush-Cheney foreign policy against which Donald Trump successfully ran. You were the only candidate essentially espousing this kind of new form of Republicanism. I sense there was a lot of hostility for real from these other candidates. Maybe it's in part because of resentment that you haven't been around for very long, and they have, but I'm wondering whether it's actually ideological in the sense that they want to wrench the Republican Party back from the new kind of “America first” populist ideology that the Republican voters are now simply insisting on.  


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah, I mean, I call the ideology absolutely “America first” nationalist ideology, and this is going to be good for our party because it is a deep ideological division within the Republican Party and it's not even limited to the Republican Party. Like, Glenn, I mean, I'm coming in from the outside. I rarely talk about Republicans and Democrats. 


Glenn Greenwald: Because you haven't been a Republican all that long, as you've talked. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: About. Yeah, I voted Libertarian in the first election I ever voted in. I find partisan distinctions rather boring because I don't think they capture the essence of real social, political, and cultural divides in this country and even across much of the modern West. I think the real divide is between the managerial class and the citizen, between those who are skeptical of the citizenry to determine and self-determine how they sort out questions from climate change to racial injustice. There's one worldview that says the people can't quite be trusted. It has to be a small group of elites, really, in the back of palace halls, that was done for most of old world European history and then the 1776 version of this, the post-1776, the American version said, No, we the People, sought out those differences through free speech and open debate in the public square where every citizen's voice and vote counts equally in a constitutional republic. That's a fundamentally different view. So historically, the Republican and Democratic Party, and the establishment wing of both, which is to say the dominant wing, at least as it relates to funding and most candidates who are propped up by it, are debating within the confines of the first view. We have one set of people that say, “Oh, well, we need higher taxes” and one people say, “We have lower taxes,” but we both agree that the people can't actually be trusted with the most important questions. My view is that the real thing we need to fight for today is the 1776 ideals, the rules of the road in the first place, it’s whatever the answer is, we the People get to determine it – not a federal administrative police state, not an ESG movement of a woke industrial cartel, but in the public and private sector, not multinational international institutions that impose that will on the sovereignty of sovereign nations. No, we the People, the citizens of nations, in the United States of America, the citizens of this nation determine that through our constitutional republic. And so that's what surfaced itself last night on the debate stage of the Republican Party but that even is too small of a description for what's really going on which is far deeper. And there's a version of this that at least should exist and I think does exist within the Democrat Party as well. That's not as much my concern right now but this is deep. It’s deep.


Glenn Greenwald: This conflict did play out in the 2016 election where Bernie Sanders on one side, Hillary Clinton on the other, represented, I think, that schism that you're describing. Bernie ended up getting crushed by a combination of kind of sort of cheating and rigging – that's Elizabeth Warren's words and Donna Brazile's words, not mine – and the Democrats kept hold of the establishment of the party. The Republicans didn't. They lost that with Donald Trump. They thought Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were the bulwarks. And then you look at the fact – and you've been talking about this a lot as well – that for all the kind of intense partisan discourse, we hear, where everyone's a Democrat or a Republican when you turn on cable news, and you go out into the United States, people don't care about that […] 


Vivek Ramaswamy: They really don't. 


Glenn Greenwald: […] Well, lots of people said in 2016, my two favorite candidates are Trump and Bernie. Lots of people who voted for Obama twice, voted for Trump in 2016, which makes no sense from the partisan perspective if you're kind of a pro-partisan… And then you have this huge swath of people who just don't vote, a huge – millions and millions of Americans – not because they're impeded from doing so, but because they just don't think it matters. One of the arguments you're making is, look, I'm not auditioning to be Trump's vice president. I actually think I can make a better inroad into these kinds of voters than President Trump could, who did a good job in 2016 to bring in new voters. What is the reason for that confidence? Is it just generational? Do you have a specific message that resonates? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yes. So, it's not just generational. I mean, that's an element of it. I think the fact is that Trump helped air a lot of that pent-up emotion that had been suppressed – and systematically suppressed by both parties – and Bernie tapped into that, too, in some of the ways that you described. This is where I would pick at one thing you said earlier, too: populism isn't really a philosophy. Populism is a response to an emotional current but I think there's a real philosophy underlying it, absolutely coherent on its own terms, a new political ideology […] 


Glenn Greenwald: Where you trust the people to make decisions? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yes. And it's not one that I'm inventing. It's one that was born in 1776. And so, I think we live in a 1776 moment. But it's not just that we're going to go out with pitchforks because we're mad. It's because we're going out to revive the modern American revolution, on the principles written out in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the best operating manual for those principles, the U.S. Constitution. And so, I think what I'm aiming to do, and I believe in some ways we are already doing that – we're just getting warmed up – is leading that American revolution, that modern American revolution in our domestic policy. The only war I want to start is the war on the fourth branch of government, which should not exist. I will get in there and actually shut it down, and I think I have a deeper understanding […] 


Glenn Greenwald: By the fourth branch of government, you mean the regulatory […] 


Vivek Ramaswamy: I mean the shadow government. 


Glenn Greenwald: […] essentially out of control, plus the deep state, the part of the government that operates in the dark with no democratic accountability. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: That's right. The people who are never elected, but who wield most of the political power in this country. That is the war I'm starting while ending a lot of the meaningless deflection wars that we either start or fuel abroad, and that's a complete inversion of the way the traditional Republican Party has been doing, it is allowing the cancerous proliferation of this administrative state because it shunts elected representatives from political accountability while creating one more deflection tool of pointless wars from Iraq now to Ukraine. That's what's going on. 


Glenn Greenwald: So, let me ask about two specific examples that I thought expressed most vividly this kind of difference you're describing, the first of which was Ukraine, which was incredibly obvious. Only you on that stage were willing to say emphatically, “No, our money to Ukraine is not in our interest. We have lots of stuff to do here at home, including protecting our border.” DeSantis, as you kind of mocked him for putting his finger in the air, was taking that middle ground of let's have the Europeans pay for it. 

At the beginning of the war, overwhelmingly – and I know you were against it from the beginning – a majority of Americans, a vast majority of Americans were swept up in the propaganda and wanted the US support for that war. Now, you look at polls, overwhelmingly majorities are against that. They want no more money sent there, especially Republican voters. That's an overwhelmingly clear view. We don't want any more of this money being sent. And yet, every single person on that stage beside you, or maybe Ron DeSantis, doesn't care about that, doesn't care what the voters want, doesn't care what people think about where they want their tax money spent. They want to continue to lavish the landscape with all of the money that he wants until the end of that conflict, which won't be four years from now. Why do you think that, for politicians who do pay attention to polls, if they are going to be successful, but are nonetheless so willing to ignore the sentiments of their own voters to continue to insist on this policy that people oppose? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: So that's the easier answer. There's a harder question lurking behind it. The easy answer, I can tell you from experience: donors. The donor class of the Republican Party fundamentally disapproves of the message that I delivered on that stage. And it's the one thing that's holding Ron DeSantis back, right? His campaign is run by his super PAC, which is extremely well-funded and far better funded by this campaign, even for all the checks I've personally written. And so that holds him back. But the rest of the field is completely – as I said in the stage, made a lot of people mad – bought and paid for by the donor class, frankly, some of which is bipartisan. It's the same donor class that swings in the other direction at times, too. The deeper mystery, though, Glenn, and I don't have a great answer on this, is then why the donor class […]


Glenn Greenwald: Right. That’s what I was about to ask. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: […] so attached to this religion. Zelenskyism. “Ukraine-ism.” It's a modern cult in the United States of America. And the tempting answer – and I quipped a little bit, had a little fun with Nikki last night about, you know, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and there's an element of the military-industrial complex – but I believe in truth. And if I'm getting to the truth of the matter, I don't think that's really what's going on, because I know countless donors that I've lost over this issue. So, I can’t imagine that they're thinking about what the value of their stockholding is in some weapons manufacturers. I don't think that's it. It's just something else. 


Glenn Greenwald: Isn’t it that there is embedded in the Republican Party for decades now, there's this ideology about the United States and the role it plays in the world for all sorts of selfish reasons… 


Vivek Ramaswamy: It’s embedded in both Parties. Joe Biden and Liz Cheney! What’s the difference? 


Glenn Greenwald: […] There's a lot more support to the Democratic Party or a lot less opposition in the Democratic Party to the war in Ukraine than in the Republican Party, which I think is interesting. They want that war going on at least as much as the Republican establishment, if not more so. I just wondering, though, whether there's this kind of genuine conviction, which sounds naive when you're talking about Washington – people with actual convictions – that this ideology has been embedded for decades, going back to the Cold War, the War on Terror, that the way we maintain our dominance in the world is through foreign military operations. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: So, I think I have good I think I have a good finger on the pulse of what's going on here. I don't think they have convictions. I think that these politicians on the stage yesterday are puppets. I'm deeply convinced of that. I mean, you interact with people, they're good people, they're fine, but they're vessels, right? Listless vessels, if we may use the power of super PACs. 

I think that some of those people, though, in that donor establishment, ironically, are people who do have convictions in what that view of American hegemony should be, some of which is tied to self-interest, but not all. It's this attachment to a sense of self-confidence that's derived from superiority over the other. And I think that once you've earned a certain amount of money, moral superiority then becomes more important than financial superiority. The marginal return of the arguing piece of paper isn't worth as much but the psychological security of knowing that you are better than your fellow man is really what I think drives – it's the sick psychology […] 


Glenn Greenwald: Adam Smith wrote about that in “The Wealth of Nations.” The idea that there's this sort of […]


Vivek Ramaswamy: He did. Good point.


Glenn Greenwald: […] a sense of strength and purpose that comes from reading about the conquest of your foreign armies, especially, if you watch from a safe distance. Even if that means a little higher taxes. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Especially if you are insulated from the consequence as well. 


Glenn Greenwald: Exactly. That’s the key.


Vivek Ramaswamy: It's not your kid that goes to fight, right?


Glenn Greenwald: It's neither you nor your family that's fighting. It's other people's families who are fighting […] 


Vivek Ramaswamy: That’s a great point of Adam Smith. 


Glenn Greenwald: It's really – I'll show you. If you haven't seen it, I'll show you the passage it describes […] 


Vivek Ramaswamy: It sounds familiar. It’s been years since I've read it... 


Glenn Greenwald: Well, yeah, it's from “The Wealth of Nations.”

Just two more questions, out of respect for your time. One is on the issue of China. Last night you described the Russia and China alliance as the greatest military threat we face. You said the only war you want to start is against this fourth branch of government, the deep state, the regulatory state, and yet, that kind of rhetoric leads people to wonder whether your opposition involving ourselves in the war in Ukraine is really about a desire instead to focus that kind of military confrontation with China, to start a new Cold War with China. What is your view of the U.S. relationship with China going forward? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: You know, look at what I've said in the recent weeks, which also was the source of some jabs that some other candidates were giving me for my views there, I want to pull Russia apart from China. I do think that China is a real threat to the United States. 


Glenn Greenwald: And in what sense are they a real threat? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Well, I think that they want to hold an economic gun over our head and ultimately exert leverage to advance geopolitical goals using the economy to do it. And so, I think the right answer is that there are a few different things. One is to declare economic independence from China. I think that we cannot live in a world in which we're dependent on an adversary for our modern way of life. We can talk about the role of India or Australia or other nations, bilateral trade relationships with other countries. I don't like the multilateral stuff because it comes with a lot of baggage and garbage about climate change but strong bilateral relationships from Japan to South Korea to India can play a role in this. Pulling Russia out of its military alliance with China by reopening relations with Russia. If we reopen economic relations with Russia. Russia doesn't have to rely economically on China. Freeze the current lines of control Korean war-style armistice agreement and end the war in Ukraine, permanent commitment for NATO not to admit Ukraine – it's a reverse maneuver of what Nixon did in 1972. He pulled Mao out of Brezhnev's little brother's arm... Well, Putin is like the new Mao. Let's pull him out of Xi Jinping's class and move from a bilateral international order today that favors China to a trilateral one where none of the three major superpowers, nuclear superpowers, are aligned. I think that's a good thing. As it relates to Taiwan, I favor moving from strategic ambiguity to strategic clarity. Right now, the U.S. just does depend on Taiwan for semiconductors. Our entire modern way of life, the camera that's recording this interview to that laptop on your lap […] 


Glenn Greenwald: Which is the excuse as to why we need to defend Taiwan, but not Ukraine. So, the question then becomes […] 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Well, no, I want to unroll this forward actually.


Glenn Greenwald: Let's get away from dependence on superconductors and then the question becomes does that change our relationship with China vis a vis Taiwan and in general? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yes, it does once we achieve semiconductor independence. So I'm going to lead us by the end of our first term to ensure that we have semiconductor independence in this country. And what I've said is I want to be very clear that there are a couple of reasons why China might want to go for Taiwan. But if one of them is to lord over the United States holding hostage our modern way of life, I'm not okay with that. And we will defend Taiwan. This does a couple of things. One is it makes Xi Jinping have to be a fool to invade Taiwan before we do have semiconductor independence. If he wants to fulfill the nationalistic goal from 1949 in Chiang Kai‐shek and Mao Zedong, that's a separate discussion. That's a separate discussion. But as it relates to lording over and squatting on the semiconductor supply chain, no, the answer is no. So, we'll pull Russia out of their hands. We’ll do a partnership with India, control of the Malacca Strait. We're trying to get this Middle Eastern oil supply. And then after 2028, the end of my first term, when I will lead us to semiconductor independence, our posture changes. And I think that being honest about that, as a U.S. president, to say that I'm advancing U.S. interests, that is credible. People can actually – not only people at home but even other actors on the global stage – take credible signals for that because I expect them to act in their self-interest just as they can expect me representing the United States to act in our self-interest. That is the single most effective way of deterring China from going after Taiwan while avoiding war, especially during the period that we literally depend on Taiwan for our modern way of life. And this also puts Taiwan on notice. I mean, this is a nation that's spending one point something percent of its GDP on military. 


Glenn Greenwald: Because everyone knows it has the U.S. behind it, ready to defend it…


Vivek Ramaswamy: It should be at – 5% of Taiwan's GDP should be spent on its own military defense if that's what they want. They have an election in 2024. The KMT has different view Tsai Ing-wen. That's their nation's issue, to sort out democratically in terms of where they are. But this puts them on notice. Taiwan would have to be a fool not to increase its military spending as a percentage of GDP; Xi Jinping would have to be a fool to go for Taiwan before we have semiconductor independence in this country, if we move to strategic clarity. 

And then the traditional establishment came like a ton of bricks on me for this view. Oh, I mean, Nikki Haley referenced it last night, but the funniest part about this, Glenn, though, is that if we had more time in the debate I would have thrown it back in their face – and maybe I'll do it, the next debate – is this is under a status quo when the U.S. technically is espousing still the One China policy that would still drive Donald Trump for picking up a phone call from the Taiwanese president, in 2015, to congratulate him, that that broke diplomatic protocol and we embrace the One China policy. We can't say what we'll do in Taiwan, if I, as said I will defend Taiwan until we achieve semiconductor independence but as the implication that the posture could change after [...] 


Glenn Greenwald: Which is even kind of more hard line. From that perspective […]


Vivek Ramaswamy: But it's neither more nor less hard line. But it's laughable that they will point to that as being a softy position when all I'm saying is let's be honest and let's be clear, this is how nations can actually deal with one another diplomatically, if they can actually trust one another credibly that you're actually who would have ever thought following your self-interest. And that is how you avoid wars that are against the interests of the United States and if I may say it, against the interests of other nations as well. 


Glenn Greenwald: Well, last question. I did think it was notable that people like Nikki Haley like to tout the fact that they have foreign policy experience when U.S. foreign policy over the last at least a year is a disaster for the world. I'd rather pick somebody randomly out of the phone book to run it. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: It’s the worst. I’d have a monkey running it.


Glenn Greenwald: Exactly. And then, any of those people who are so proud of the role they played in all of these disasters. Last question. One of the things your campaign has done that is unique and you referenced earlier, I just want to delve into it a little bit more deeply is the last question, which is you've made a point of visiting not Kiev, but parts of the United States that typically the Republican Party ignores. There's a lot of people there who don't vote, who have a tradition of voting for Democrats, not because they're excited about the Democratic Party, quite the contrary, but they think the Republican Party is against their interest in ways that are kind of bigoted or that they've been told is very hostile. And one of the arguments you're making is I want to go into those places with a message that will liberate them either from not voting or from the Democratic Party. What is that message that you have to tell these people in African American communities, in lower-income communities, that the Republican Party and voting for the Republican Party will actually make a material difference in their lives? 


Vivek Ramaswamy: The America First movement stands for all Americans. And so, no, I haven't talked to Zelenskyy, but I did pick up the phone and call the likes of Gregory and Janet Ards two small business owners in Hawaii who tragically lost their two small businesses in their family but had a third that was still able to provide the water supply to the rest of Maui. I think that this is a moment when people from the South Side Chicago to Kensington, to Hawaii, to Maui, to Ohio, to Iowa, to New Hampshire can unite around the idea that we have a government that sells out our own interests to advance some other multilateral interests internationally. And we can unite around the fact that, yes, we do believe that the southern border needs to be sealed, that we do believe that the money that we spend, the taxpayer resources that we spend, should be spent to fund U.S. interests and not pay the salary headcount of Ukrainian government officials instead. And I think I'm already seeing that, Glenn, as I'm traveling this country, that this is not about Republicans and Democrats. I think it's a 1776 moment where the question is, do you share the basic rules of the road in common – meritocracy, the pursuit of excellence, free speech, something that is a controversial idea that […]


Glenn Greenwald: That didn’t come up last night that this has been a centerpiece of your campaign obviously.


Vivek Ramaswamy: Centerpiece. Absolutely. Self-Governance over aristocracy. Do we believe in three branches of government? Do we believe in the Constitution or do we believe in the other thing that we're living in today, where it's a quasi-technocratic monarchy in three-letter agencies in Washington, D.C. And I think the truth of the matter is easily 80% of this country agrees on the basic rules of the road. Maybe we will disagree on whether corporate tax rates should be high or low, but this debt. 


Glenn Greenwald: Limit abortion or things like that. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah, but these are, in the scheme of things, actually, details […]


Glenn Greenwald: Right. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: […] compared to the basic rules of the road. And I say 80 - 20, half of the 20 is people younger than me who never even learned those ideals in the first place, we'll teach them and bring them along too. This is the stuff of a landslide election. The single most unifying thing that a leader could deliver for this country is a moral mandate, in 2024, to revive those basic 1776 principles. And honest to God, I think I'm the only person in this race in either party who can actually do it. And as much as a lot of my policies, certainly on foreign policy on the border, otherwise do overlap heavily with that of Donald Trump – and I said on the stage last night, I do think he was an excellent president – I think this can't be a 50.1 election. We're skating on thin ice as a country. This can't be the Monday after Election Day; they slowly trot out who won the election. No. This has to be a decisive victory: bring in young people, old people, black, white, suburban, rural, urban. Doesn't matter. We're all Americans. And the America First movement puts all Americans first. And so, yeah, Does that help to be a member of a different generation? Absolutely, it does. But it's not just a generational argument. It's a vision of what actually matters in this country, what the actual divide is. It's not between Republicans and Democrats. It's the everyday citizen. The great uprising saying, “Hell, no” to the great reset and the managerial class. That's what this is about. 


Glenn Greenwald: So, we were covering your campaign when you were 8.2% because I had a feeling that this message was going to start to resonate. It incredibly is now. So, we're going to keep covering it as I think you're going to continue to rise in the polls, especially after last night. So, congratulations on a great debate. Thanks for joining us. 


Vivek Ramaswamy: Thanks, Glenn. Good to see you. 

Glenn Greenwald:
Good to see you as well.

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Intro (7:34)

Facing the Censorship Regime (12:04)

Interview with Max Abrahms (37:21)

Ending (1:48:26)


*Today’s show was brought to you by the Wellness Company. Go to and grab your prescription kits now–code GLENN saves you 10% at checkout!  


Thank you so much for your continued support—have a great week!

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