While Defending Trump, Ramaswamy Insists He’s More Electable in the Fall

In northwestern Iowa on Monday, Vivek Ramaswamy addressed, unprompted, a question that has trailed him throughout his presidential bid: Why should voters choose him instead of Donald J. Trump, the former president whom he routinely and staunchly defends?

Rather than breaking with Mr. Trump, who leads Mr. Ramaswamy by 50 points or more in national polls, voters who support Mr. Ramaswamy’s proposals have often recognized his alignment with Mr. Trump on numerous issues. Many suggest instead that Mr. Ramaswamy would make a strong vice president or future president.

With under a week until the Iowa caucuses, and as he polls in a distant fourth place in the state, Mr. Ramaswamy has addressed those concerns without wavering in his support for Mr. Trump.

“If you think they’re going to let this man get anywhere near the White House again, I want you to open your eyes,” Mr. Ramaswamy told around 20 voters in Le Mars, Iowa. (In recent weeks, he has leaned into conspiracy theories on the campaign trail.)

On Monday he decried the criminal prosecutions Mr. Trump faces as “unconstitutional and disgusting” but indirectly suggested he would be more electable because the “system” would keep Mr. Trump from reaching the White House.

“I’ve respected him more in this race than every other candidate because it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “He was a good president for this country. But our movement cannot end with him.”

Mr. Ramaswamy has often praised the former president and promised to pardon him, should he be convicted — earning rare praise from Mr. Trump during his campaign. But in recent months, he has tried to position himself as younger and less embattled than the former president, whom he has described as “wounded,” on the trail, and in a recent interview with NBC News and The Des Moines Register.

“You’ve got the future of ‘America First’ standing right here, fresh legs to lead us to victory in this war,” he said, suggesting that he would use his knowledge of the law to go further than Mr. Trump did in enacting popular conservative policies.

Elaine Tillman, 68, came into Mr. Ramaswamy’s event at the Pizza Ranch in Le Mars undecided, with plans to attend a Trump rally on Saturday. But after hearing Mr. Ramaswamy speak, she said she planned to caucus for him instead.

“I liked everything he did, I just know there’ll be no peace with the Democrats going against him for the next four years,” Ms. Tillman said of Mr. Trump.

But convincing everyone who came out would prove a difficult task. Shawn Nissen, a 38-year-old construction worker from Jefferson, Iowa, said he had braved the frigid weather to hear from Mr. Ramaswamy in person because he saw him as aligned with Mr. Trump — whom he plans to caucus for.

“I just think he’s got to finish what he started back in 2016,” Mr. Nissen said of Mr. Trump. “But I want to hear what Vivek says because even though I’m voting for Trump this year, we’ve still got another election in four years.”

As a snowstorm bore down on Iowa, Mr. Ramaswamy was one of the few candidates out on the trail on Monday afternoon, while others canceled planned events. He had four events scheduled on Monday in northwestern Iowa, where he campaigned alongside Steve King, a former congressman for the region.

“If you can’t handle the snow, you’re not ready for Xi Jinping,” he told around 30 people in Sioux City.

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