Yearning for deliverance from a decade’s worth of radicalism, observers sometimes try to imagine a functional GOP. The party they foresee tends to blend free markets with multiracial inclusion to create a moderate, modern Right. This is a pleasant thought, and it vaguely comports with many people’s impression of America’s rising generations. But look at the Millennial Republicans who are already emerging and one sees that another wave of Trumpism is about to crest.
Most prominent among these youngish mavens of the right is biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Now, in no sense is this man representative of his generation as a whole, given his $600 million of stock options and degree from Harvard University. He is, in fact, an elite. But he is also 37 years old and an astute man on the political make, and the way he has crafted his image is instructive as to which lessons young Republicans have learned from the transformation of their party.
What he has gleaned from the Trump revolution is emphatically not to embrace the modernizing creed. In a sense Ramaswamy would be ideally suited to coopt the cosmopolitan yearnings of former RNC Chair (and Trump Chief of Staff) Reince Priebus’s famous “Autopsy,” which in 2013 posited a future in which Republicans would welcome minorities with open arms and focus on leading America into a strong, free future. Instead, Ramaswamy has used his tycoon status and diverse background to bend this vision into a Trumpian appeal.
Ramaswamy does this by leveraging his profile to tell Trumpian populists what they want to hear. He is Asian American; therefore, his denunciations of “identity politics” carry more weight. He is a wealthy businessman; therefore, he understands better than most the invidious threat of “Woke Capital.” Ramaswamy’s identitarian gymnastics show that even a more multiracial leadership class is likely to submit to the white-nationalist currents in the GOP base. The key to winning Republican primaries will be to make an appeal slightly different from, but fundamentally consistent with, the populism that has remade the Republican Party.
Where Ramaswamy and other rising Republicans such as Madison Cawthorn do not differ from their elders at all is on authoritarianism. In a party that has made voter suppression a core strategic ploy, Ramaswamy goes farther than any other GOP leader. He, like other Republicans, observes that young people vote heavily for the Democratic Party. His solution to this challenge is to literally disenfranchise most people under 25. I repeat: He would raise the voting age so high that millions of Americans would lose their right to vote. In this absurd autocratic absolutism, he’s perceiving another ongoing trend in the GOP’s evolution. They are becoming more extreme. Rising Republicans are likely to instill yet more force into their party’s 60-year lurch toward ultra-conservatism.
Thus, even in a changing America, the next generation of Republicans is likely to be a continuation of Trumpian trends. They may indeed become more racially diverse at the top as Republicans begin to perceive Brown and Black faces as a necessity for appearing respectable in the eyes of an anti-racist public. But the racism will endure untouched. So will the authoritarianism: Nearly every Republican has concluded that American democracy is unfit for the traditionalist imperative, and thus representative democracy must be jettisoned. Vivek Ramaswamy is not a novelty candidate. He is a wise and adept observer of the iniquity that has made his party autocratic.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.