Vivek Ramaswamy and MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan traded rhetorical blows after the latter challenged the 2024 presidential candidate on his past criticisms of Donald Trump.
Ramaswamy, who strongly criticized the former president following January 6th and again did so in his September 2022-published book Nation of Victims, has sought to avoid questions about the matter. Specifically, he wrote that what Trump did following the 2020 election did was “downright abhorrent,” calling January 6th a “dark day for democracy.”
The presidential candidate once called Trump’s actions on the day “downright abhorrent” and criticized “stolen election” claims in his second book, “Nation of Victims.” “It was a dark day for democracy. The loser of the last election refused to concede the race, claimed the election was stolen, raised hundreds of millions of dollars from loyal supporters, and is considering running for executive office again,” he wrote in the book. “I’m referring, of course, to Donald Trump.”
When Hasan pressed the issue, asking Ramaswamy to address his previous claims about Trump, the exchange became very heated.
"I want you to answer my question. Three times I've asked it. What did Donald Trump do that was 'downright abhorrent'? It's your words."
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 6, 2023
HASAN: You say he behaved in “downright abhorrent” behavior that makes him a danger to democracy. (Crosstalk) Tell me what he did that was “downright abhorrent.”
RAMASWAMY: Let’s actually be really fair to your audience. So on January 10th, 2021, thereabouts, days after that incident, I wrote an article in the WSJ arguing that censorship was the real cause of what happened on January 6th, when asked in response…
HASAN: Which isn’t true
RAMASWAMY: Well, that’s what I wrote. I’m giving you the hard facts of what I said. When pressed on whether that was condoning what Trump did, my answer was no. There’s a difference between a bad judgment and a crime. We need to be able to tell the difference in this country.
HASAN: You’re avoiding my question.
RAMASWAMY: No I’m not avoiding your question.
HASAN: What did Donald Trump do that was downright abhorrent? Second time I’ve asked that question.
RAMASWAMY: I think that the thing that I would have done differently (crosstalk) in his shoes
HASAN: That’s not what I asked Vivek, with respect.
RAMASWAMY: Is that I would have declared re-election on January 7th. That’s exactly what I would have done.
HASAN: That’s not what I asked with respect, I’ll ask it a third time. What did Trump do that was egregious, quote “downright abhorrent, and a danger to democracy? Can you just explain to our viewers, your words.
RAMASWAMY: So, you’re mixing two different quotes, but what did I think was reprehensible about what happened that day, look, I think the way a true leader should have been to actually say, “This is me running for re-election, not actually litigating what is already passed and behind us.” And I would have done things differently. That is not a crime though, what he did.
HASAN: I understand…
RAMASWAMY: And the reason I’ve been so vehement…
HASAN: You keep saying what you’ve done (crosstalk), I just want to hear from your mouth, unless you’re scared of him, why won’t you say what he did that is “downright abhorrent?”
At that point, Hasan put up Vivek’s quote on the screen where he states, “What Trump did last week was wrong. Downright abhorrent.”
Ramaswamy continued to dodge the question.
RAMASWAMY: Mehdi, Mehdi, I’m not going to let you stitch, you’re stitching together three things from three different places (crosstalk). Do you want to have an actual conversation?
HASAN: Yes, I want you to answer my question, three times I’ve asked it. What did Trump do that is “downright abhorrent?” It’s a simple question, it’s your words, it’s on screen. What did he do that is “downright abhorrent.”
RAMASWAMY: I believe that failing to unite this country falls short of what a true leader ought to do. That is why I’m in the race, is to do things differently than any prior president has done them. That’s the hard truth.
HASAN: And that’s what made him a sore loser and abhorrent, your words?
RAMASWAMY: Well, the reality is (crosstalk), none of that is a crime, and the reason I’ve been so vocal. The reason I have been so vocal is because when someone actually prosecutes someone (crosstalk) for a bad judgment, and I’ve been clear, he made bad judgments. That’s a distinction we have to draw.
Putting aside my vast dislike for Hasan, who is one of the worst actors on cable news, Ramaswamy could have handled this better. He had to know he was going to eventually be confronted with his own words, especially going on MSNBC, and saying that he only meant Trump didn’t generically “unite” the country doesn’t add up. It’s pretty clear, in my view, that he was talking about Trump saying the election was stolen and whipping people up into a frenzy over the charge. In fact, that’s mentioned in his quote from his book.
He would have done better to just own it. Is he running for president or not? Because right now, he has to go through Donald Trump to be the nominee, and while he had a brief polling spike in August, that has waned. His strategy of refusing to just speak consistently and plainly about the former president, including contradicting his past statements, makes him look weak and subservient. Whether Trump supporters would agree with him isn’t really relevant when his current strategy has him in single digits anyway.
Ramaswamy has built a reputation for going on hostile media and being able to talk through anything. I don’t think this exchange played well for him, though. He needs a more coherent explanation for his past statements on January 6th, whether that’s standing by them or attempting to obfuscate from them.
At some point, Ramaswamy has to go for the prize. That is, unless that wasn’t his goal to begin with. Right now, he’s barely registering in the early primary states, and the too-online conventional wisdom that he had “done things right” compared to other candidates by tacitly allying with Trump is being challenged by the situation on the ground. Does he fade away or does he set himself apart, including apart from the former president? Time will tell.