Desmond Keuper

The presidential primary debates, for either party, play a very significant role in determining public perception surrounding the candidates. In previous election cycles, they have cemented figures like Donald Trump as spotlight candidates and brought about the end of any hope that candidates like Beto O’Rourke might have had for the presidency. These debates are often the first time that a candidate will appear before the public in any serious capacity and, in many cases, set the tone for the rest of each candidate’s campaign.

Apart from offering insight that allows for speculation regarding the potential success or failure of each candidate’s campaign, this first debate highlighted one of the key contradictions of our current climate and the American far right in general. Vivek Ramaswamy, despite the charisma and understanding of his party that would seemingly enable him to serve the Republican Party well, has little chance of becoming president on a far-right ticket because of his Hindu faith. The ideology of the American far right has thus proved self-contradicting and self-defeating in a way that will impede its chance of success this election cycle.

The first round of Republican debates did provide insight into how well each candidate would most likely fare. Sen. Tim Scott left feeling a need to be “more aggressive” after failing to make a serious impression. Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, made a considerable impression after being dubbed by many as the only viable challenger to Trump’s own presidency. However, as was pointed out by Fox News commentators that very night, even Gov. DeSantis found himself eclipsed by Ramaswamy, a businessman who has never held office.

Ramaswamy’s opponents seemed similarly aware of his potential to eclipse them, as he became the focal point of most conversations rather than Gov. DeSantis, as might have been expected. Ramaswamy declared his support for former President Trump, who might end up running for president from prison.

Despite calling for a decrease in financial and military support, he advocated that the United States strive to emulate what he considers to be a strong national identity rooted in strong borders and a “tough-on-crime” attitude. He argued as well that America ought to cultivate a “faith-based” national identity, claiming that a return to faith would help to resolve what he perceives as a very dark moment defined by a raging culture war and a sense of disunity.

This increasingly emergent conflict is indicative of one of the American far right’s key contradictions. As far as I am able to speculate, Ramaswamy would be an ideal candidate for the far right. He is an alternative to four more years of Trump, but thus far he has been unwilling to criticize him, and thus has been able to avoid alienating those members of the far right who remain Trump-obsessed to the point of a fanatical cult-like devotion. He has effectively harnessed Trump as a martyr while claiming that he would be able to take the “America first” movement further than Trump was able to, effectively positioning himself as Trump’s successor.

He has paved out an image of national unity that aligns closely with how many members of the far right would define their preferred strain of nationalism. But because he is not Christian, because he himself does not embody the idealized identity that the far right has oriented itself around “preserving,” the far right will not be able to harness his charisma. In fact, as the Jacksonville shooting and the uptick in white supremacy-motivated crime indicates the far right’s most extreme members would likely perceive Ramaswamy as a representative of the enemy.

His charisma combined with his articulation of common far-right talking points, in addition to his willingness to venerate Trump, would make him an ideal candidate to carry out the American far right’s agenda. However, he falls short of the far right’s image of an ideal candidate in that he himself is not a Christian.

While he has referenced his own faith in declarations of support for “Christian values,” whatever that may mean to the Republican voter base, the mere fact of difference will prove a challenge to his efforts to win over a group of voters who have come to brandish their Christian identity as a nationality. It can be noted with some irony that, despite having existed previously, this Christian national identity is largely attributable to Trump’s influence on conservative culture.

Interestingly enough, when Gov. DeSantis attempted to speak at a vigil honoring the victims of the shooting, he was booed, and hecklers shouted that he was not welcome at the event and that his suppression of any serious critical race-related discourse had helped bring about the shooting.

The contradictory and self-defeating nature of the far right itself combined with Americans’ increasing dissatisfaction with far-right candidates and policy, which I’ve written about previously will lead to a presidential election that ultimately will not be winnable by appeals to nationalistic fervor and extreme cultural conservatism. As Republican candidates find themselves out of touch with what voters really want and pinned down by the contradictory position their own vapid ideology has placed them in, it becomes increasingly clear that this election will be won by a strong economic policy that appeals to voters’ material concerns, rather than appeals to self-contradictory and ultimately vapid nationalistic sentiments.

Desmond Keuper is a senior majoring in philosophy.