In early 2023, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy summoned a small group of conservative operatives to discuss “exciting plans” he had for the coming months.
“I’m going to run for president,” Ramaswamy said on the call.
Multiple sources who were on the call tell ABC News that they were baffled by the news. They had figured that maybe Ramaswamy, then a little-known biotech millionaire, had been working on a new business venture, or was writing a book, or was even contemplating a run for Senate in his home state of Ohio — but launching a long-shot bid for the White House was the last thing they expected.
Ramaswamy pitched himself as a candidate who could make serious waves in the Republican primary at the meeting. When met with some skepticism, Ramaswamy argued that his candidacy could also dissuade Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from entering the race, according to a source who was on the call. In the lead-up to his announcement, Ramaswamy would tell several other conservative activists that he believed that if he ran, it could stop DeSantis from running or impact his viability as a candidate if he did enter the race, sources said.
Fast forward six months, and Ramaswamy, a relative unknown prior to his long-shot bid for the White House, has made some serious waves in the GOP primary as he continues to grab headlines ahead of this week’s first GOP primary debate.
While former President Donald Trump remains the heavy frontrunner, Ramaswamy — despite having lower name recognition than his more seasoned rivals — has climbed to third place in the polls, according to FiveThirtyEight national averages.
His presidential bid has already elevated Ramaswamy from a little-known conservative upstart who occasionally made appearances on Fox News to a candidate who has received as much Google search interest as former Vice President Mike Pence and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. His campaign has turbocharged Ramaswamy’s social media presence, with his number of followers on Twitter, now known as X, nearly quadrupling — ballooning from a little over 236,000 prior to announcing his candidacy to now nearly 1 million followers just six months later.
Despite Ramaswamy’s success — or possibly because of it — some critics have accused the political neophyte of running for president simply to raise his stature.
“Bottom line,” conservative columnist Scott Morefield wrote in a recent Townhall column, “whether Donald Trump wins the primary and manages to pull off a miracle win in the general or does as predicted and loses bigly, Vivek Ramaswamy wins with, at a minimum, a massive profile increase.”
In fact, ABC News has learned that Ramaswamy, 38, was pursuing another potentially high-profile venture before he launched his presidential bid.
The face of a new podcast
Prior to that meeting where Ramaswamy pitched his 2024 run, the successful entrepreneur had been heading down a different path — one that was long in development but fell through prior to him deciding to launch a long-shot White House bid, ABC News has been told.
Heading into 2022, Ramaswamy had inked a deal and had been working with the popular right-wing media company The Daily Wire on a project that was ultimately scrapped, according to multiple sources familiar with the project. The deal was unlike anything the Daily Wire had previously done with its talent: The company, which in 2022 said it made $200 million, signed Ramaswamy in the hope of developing a show around him.
The project — which was scheduled to debut in 2022 — would have seen Ramaswamy as the face of a new podcast focused on politics and the economy, according to multiple sources familiar with its development.
Leadership at The Daily Wire, which includes founder and popular conservative social media star Ben Shapiro, had taken notice of Ramaswamy when he began making appearances on Fox News and other conservative media outlets around the release of his book, “Woke, Inc.” In particular, leadership at the company was drawn to Ramaswamy’s ability to communicate conservative ideas and policy, sources said.
The show had been in development for a number of months before it was dropped, sources said. Ramaswamy had been deeply involved in the process and had taped multiple test runs for the show with members of The Daily Wire team flying out to Ohio to help its development before the company passed on the project, according to sources.
While it’s not immediately clear exactly why the show was dropped, Daily Wire CEO Jeremy Boreing, who is currently on leave from the company while he directs a fantasy series for the company’s streaming service, told ABC News in an interview that after a month’s long development process with Ramasamy, the company parted ways with him after it was clear his priorities had shifted.
“His priorities were changing. And we could have chosen to be aggressive about it — we did spend a little bit of money on the prep that we’d been doing,” Boreing said, noting that the company agreed to let Ramasamy out of the development contract as the tech entrepreneur looked to launch Strive, which branded itself as an “anti-woke” asset management firm.
However, sources familiar with the decision told ABC News that some in leadership at The Daily Wire soured on Ramaswamy as the development process progressed. Some on the team began to feel Ramaswamy came off “too much like a politician” and “too scripted” for the company’s brand, and there were issues around the biotech entrepreneur not taking preparation seriously enough for the show, sources told ABC News.
In a company meeting a few months after the decision was made to scrap plans for the show, a Daily Wire executive said the company “dodged a bullet” by deciding not to work with Ramaswamy, sources said.
While Boreing, who was CEO at the time, said he can’t speak for all the employees at the company, he denied that leadership at The Daily Wire felt it had dodged a bullet, telling ABC News, “I’ve never heard any of those words used.”
“It was my deal, that was my project, and in the end, I’m the one who decided to bring [Ramaswamy] in and I’m the one who decided to let him out. And I certainly didn’t think that he was too ‘politician’ or that he would be a bad fit. I thought it’d be a terrific fit,” Boreing said.
After the show fell through, Boreing said Ramaswamy called him to let him know he was about to launch his presidential campaign a week before he made the announcement – which Boreing said caught him by surprise.
“I could really relate to the absurdity of it … And I really admired the absurdity of, ‘I’m going to run for president in a week or two weeks,’ or whatever it was from when he called me,” recalled Boreing, who said he was surprised to hear Ramaswamy was jumping into politics and that he had never previously heard him discuss running for president.
“I felt that kind of sense of kinship, not because I have any aspirations of running for office, but just because of the kind of entrepreneurial madness of the whole thing,” Boreing said. “I thought it was great.”
‘Wanting to be famous’
As Ramaswamy has climbed in the polls, speculation has increased regarding his motivations for running for president.
Some have claimed his campaign is a shadow effort to secretly help Trump stave off a challenge from DeSantis and breeze to the party’s nomination — a criticism that has gained traction given Ramaswamy’s embrace of Trump on the campaign trail.
Others say his long-shot bid is simply an effort to elevate his profile by embracing Trump and his supporters.
According to sources who used to work closely with Ramaswamy, growing his brand in conservative media has long been a goal for the biotech millionaire.
“It’s clear that he’s been wanting to be famous for a long time,” one person who previously advised Ramaswamy told ABC News.
Another Republican aide who advised Ramaswamy early in his campaign told ABC News that there was frustration among staff early on that the candidate was more concerned about getting his campaign podcast — titled “The Vivek Show” — off the ground, rather than strategizing around how to win the party’s nomination.
“So why is Vivek running anyway?” Morefield wrote in his column. “It’s hard to imagine it’s not for one or both of the following reasons: 1) To raise his profile and secure some sort of post in the upcoming administration. 2) To pave the way for a Trump defeat of DeSantis.”
When asked for comment on this story, Ramaswamy’s senior adviser Tricia McLaughlin told ABC News, referring to DeSantis: “Does one of your sources live in a publicly financed mansion in Tallahassee, Florida?”
“I’m sure they will add this to their pre-canned attack memo for the debate,” McLaughlin said.
Yet even Ramaswamy’s harshest critics can’t deny his results so far in the campaign. Since entering the race, Ramaswamy has received widespread acclaim in conservative, mostly pro-Trump, circles. At the recent Turning Point Action Conference, a majority of the largely pro-Trump crowd voted Ramaswamy as their second choice for president, with 51% of the vote.
That success appears to have put Ramaswamy in his rivals’ sights at the upcoming debate, according to documents published online by a group associated with the DeSantis-allied super PAC Never Back Down that outline how the governor might strike back should he be attacked by his rivals.
“Hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response,” is listed as the third of “four basic must-dos” for DeSantis on the debate stage, adding that he needs to “Take a sledge-hammer to Vivek Ramaswamy: ‘Fake Vivek’ Or ‘Vivek the Fake.'”
“Vivek’s job on Aug. 23 is to introduce himself and his vision to the American people,” McLaughlin said in response. “These boring, canned attack lines from a robotic candidate doesn’t change that.”
Ramaswamy says he is in the race to win, and that he would not be open to running alongside Trump. He says he believes he is the only candidate who can secure a 1980s “Reagan-style” landslide victory as part of a “Ramaswamy revolution” in 2024, pointing to his ability to connect with voters who are turned off by Trump.
“I think I’m going further with the America First agenda than Trump did, but for whatever reason, it does not have that same effect on the people of this country,” Ramaswamy said when asked by ABC News about his comments that Donald Trump makes 30% of the country “[lose] their mental faculties.”
“My view is the people of this country who care about advancing those values will vote for me because they believe I will better be a vehicle for accomplishing that,” he said.