For nearly a month, Pence exposed Ramaswamy on everything from his views on tax policy and 9/11 to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Ramaswamy, meanwhile, suggested that Pence missed a “historic opportunity” to usher in voting reform on Jan. 6, saying he would have “done it very differently.” Pence said Ramaswamy’s proposal was “inconsistent and unconstitutional.”
It’s an ideological and generational clash between Pence, 64, who has more than three decades in the conservative movement, and Ramaswamy, 38, who identified as a libertarian before shifting to a MAGA brand of republicanism . This embodies a larger dispute over the direction of the party. And that’s about the closest the 2024 presidential campaign comes to the 2020 rivalry on the Democratic side between the senator. Amy Klobuchar and his millennial challenger Pete Buttigieg.
“We saw on the debate stage Mike Pence, known to be a soft-spoken gentleman, show more attitude towards Vivek Ramaswamy and be more spirited in this debate than even in previous conversations regarding former President Donald Trump. It felt personal. He was deeply offended onstage,” said New Hampshire native and GOP consultant Matthew Bartlett. “In a flash of about a week, they’re both here in New Hampshire, several yards apart, and there’s no broken glass. »
Instead, he said, “There’s just an absolute stalemate. »
The feud between Pence and Ramaswamy reflects a distinct dynamic from the 2024 primary, in which candidates fearful of offending Trump’s business base were shooting at each other rather than attacking the frontrunner. For Pence and Ramaswamy, hostilities began early last month, when Pence criticized Ramaswamy in an interview with the New Hampshire labor leader about his 9/11 comments, saying Ramaswamy’s comments that the government not telling the whole truth about what happened that day “deeply offended” him.
“I understand he was probably in elementary school on 9/11 and I was on Capitol Hill,” Pence said (Ramaswamy was, in fact, a 16-year-old in high school.). He added, “I think comments like that, conspiracy theories like that, dishonor the service and sacrifice of our armed forces who fought our enemies bent on killing us. »
Then came the first primary debate, when Pence at one point told Ramaswamy, “Let me explain it to you again if I can. I’ll go slower this time.
In a phone call last week outlining his draft executive orders on the first day of his presidency, Pence continued to criticize what he called “Ramaswamy’s vague foreign policy,” which he said “echoes the Obama’s doctrine of appeasement of the world’s most ruthless countries”. regimes in Russia, China and Iran.
Ramaswamy responded in part by describing the Republican Party primaries as a clear divide between Pence’s “neoconservative foreign policy establishment” and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and US ambassador to the United States. United Nations with which he has also exchanged spades in recent days, and “a new, decidedly nationalist vision of how we advance American interests”.
Pence “clearly sees Vivek as insincere and lacking in authenticity. It’s an affront to Mike Pence as an American leader and he thinks he needs to expose Vivek,” said Mike Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based Republican strategist who doesn’t work for either campaign. “And Vivek doesn’t like being targeted by so many missiles, so he counterattacks and tries to diminish Pence’s credibility. »
The tension between Pence and Ramaswamy partly reflects the different type of Republican voters they are courting. Much of Ramaswamy’s appeal stems from his efforts to present himself as the heir apparent to Trump’s MAGA populism. Or, as Salem Republican activist Tom Linehan put it at the Labor Day picnic, “he’s like Trump in a good way.”
The biotech entrepreneur is perhaps the former president’s strongest defender in the GOP presidential realm — going so far as to pledge to pardon Trump if he’s found guilty of any of the myriad criminal charges facing him. he faces. Ramaswamy supporters and other New Hampshire voters open to his candidacy often say they are interested in him in part because of his commonalities with Trump. Some even hope he will be Trump’s next running mate if he wins the nomination for the third time.
“He talks to people. It kinda looks like how Trump started,” said Cynthia Perkins, an independent voter from Hudson, New Hampshire, as she sported a “Vivek 2024” pin at the Labor Day picnic on Monday.
Pence, meanwhile, was confronted by a Trump supporter at the same picnic who asked him to justify why he felt he lacked the power to overturn the 2020 election results. Had he done so, said the woman wearing a red MAGA baseball cap signed by Trump, he would have guaranteed himself four more years in the White House.
The former vice president gave his classic response: “I had no right to void the election and Kamala Harris will have no right to void the election when we beat it in 2024.” He quoted the Constitution. He said he “did my duty that day”.
The voter left disappointed.
Ramaswamy and Pence crossed paths in New Hampshire as the former appears to be experiencing a post-debate bump here. The latter, meanwhile, still struggles to connect with an ever-deferential Republican base toward Trump and sell his religious conservatism to voters in the libertarian-leaning state. Although both are in single digits nationally, the two rivals have the widest polling gap in New Hampshire of any early candidate state, with Ramaswamy averaging 6 percentage points in the polls here and Pence hovering just below 2 percent, according to Real Clear. Policy. Trump, meanwhile, averages over 44% support in New Hampshire primary polls.
“When you’re trying to climb to the top, you have to step over other heads along the way,” Dennehy said. And right now, “Vivek is ahead of Pence and showing some momentum. »
At the Labor Day picnic, both Pence and Ramaswamy played down the tension between them.
“Elections are about choice. And I had differences with a number of people on that stage and one person who wasn’t there,” Pence told POLITICO, in reference to Trump. “I will continue to lay out my vision for the Republican Party and for America. And I’m going to bring out the contrasts so that ultimately Republican voters here in New Hampshire and across America will know that I’m the most consistent, most qualified, most tested conservative in this race. .”
But as Pence looked to leave after addressing the crowd, Ramaswamy was still blocking the main exit from the picnic area. So Pence found another – sneaking through a breach in the fence across the lawn and straight into his SUV with tinted windows.
Asked about Pence’s devious exit later, Ramaswamy gave a slight smile.
“Different people have different approaches to how we deal with events like this and voters,” he said. “He’s a good guy and I wish him well in his life as a family man and I continue to do whatever he does – whatever lies ahead of him. But that’s not one of my main concerns.