Now that the first Republican presidential primary debate is officially in the books, candidates are battling to control the narrative of what happened on stage in Milwaukee. Vivek Ramaswamy was one of the night’s stand-out performers, drawing the second most speaking time and participating in fiery exchanges with several better-known candidates.
Whether the performance will help continue his rise in the polls remains to be seen. By introducing himself to a broader audience than he’s previously reached, it's plausible that he will turbocharge his already over-performing candidacy. Ramaswamy’s critics, however, are betting that some aspects of his performance will turn off potential voters.
Some of those critics are training their fire on a particular moment from his closing statement, in which he appears to argue that the U.S. Constitution is what won the American Revolution. Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein’s tweet encapsulates this criticism well.
If Vivek had, as Stein claims, said that “the U.S. Constitution is what won the American Revolution,” he would indeed be guilty of a gaffe and deserve derision. However, if one listens closely to what Vivek actually said, this attack seems to be predicated on a misunderstanding.
Ramaswamy’s closing statement was a reiteration of his stump speech. In it, he lists ten “truths” that form the ideological bedrock of his campaign. Whenever Ramaswamy delivers these lines, they are invariably packaged together. The truths are:
- God is real.
- There are two genders.
- Human flourishing requires fossil fuels.
- Reverse racism is racism.
- An open border is no border.
- Parents determine the education of their children.
- The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.
- Capitalism lifts people up from poverty.
- There are three branches of the U.S. government, not four.
- The U.S. Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedoms in history.
In his closing statement, Vivek opens by saying, “I was born in 1985, and I grew up into a generation where we were taught to celebrate our diversity and our differences so much that we forgot all of the ways we are really just the same as Americans, bound by a common set of ideals that set this nation into motion in 1776, and this is our moment to revive those common ideals.”
He then goes on to list the ten truths as he often does.
After he lists the last truth about the U.S. Constitution being the best guarantor of individual freedom in human history, he says, “That is what won us the American Revolution. That is what will win us the revolution of 2024.”
Critics have interpreted this as Ramaswamy saying the tenth truth—“The U.S. Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedoms in history”—is what won the American Revolution. While the candidate could have been more precise about what he was referring to when he used the pronoun “that,” it seems obvious that he is arguing that embracing the ten truths, taken as a whole, is what “set this nation into motion in 1776.”
In short, Vivek is saying that the “common set of ideals” he invoked at the beginning of his statement, which he argues are the equivalent of his ten truths, are what won the American Revolution. He was not saying that the U.S. Constitution specifically helped the 13 Colonies defeat Great Britain.
Claiming Vivek said the Constitution won the American Revolution is the least charitable way to interpret his words. People are bound to interpret Ramaswamy’s debate performance differently and are free to agree or disagree with his often controversial policy positions. However, whether one likes him or not should be determined by an objective assessment of his arguments. In order to do that, we need to be fair when evaluating his language.