Vivek Ramaswamy flip-flopped on Jan. 6 to cultivate Trump supporters
Vivek Ramaswamy leaned forward in a brown wooden chair beside former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa over the summer. With the mic in one hand, the other waving in the air, the Republican presidential candidate blamed “censorship” for the U.S. Capitol riot two years ago. “What caused Jan. 6 is pervasive censorship in this country in the lead up to Jan. 6,” Ramaswamy said. “You tell people in this country they cannot speak. That is when they scream. You tell people they cannot scream. That is when they tear things down.” He pointed to the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story to suggest Jan. 6 was an inchoate scream by the frustrated masses.
Ramaswamy actually got the story (and the truth) half-right: the riot happened because of censorship—from Donald Trump. The former president knew he had lost and told his supporters to march on the Capitol anyway, leading them to disaster. Ramaswamy repeatedly said as much in the riot’s aftermath before changing his story. “What Trump did last week was wrong,” he tweeted days after Jan. 6. “Downright abhorrent. Plain and simple. I’ve said it before.” And he would say it again. In his book published last September, Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence, Ramaswamy wrote that Jan. 6 was a “dark day for democracy” and called the former president a “loser.”
“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. “I’m referring, of course, to Donald Trump.” He said Trump took a “page from the Stacey Abrams playbook,” a reference to the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia in 2018 who lost and immediately rejected the results of the election. He also decried the culture of conservative victimhood, which tells them “that any election they lose must have been stolen.”
There was a time when I would have agreed with what Ramaswamy told Carlson. I have said similar things. I think it was a tragedy that so many people were duped into disaster by a man who derided them as looking “low-class,” as Trump reportedly said of his own supporters on Jan. 6. But here, again, is the real story people like Ramaswamy should be telling Republicans: Trump misled you and put you on a collision course with calamity when he lied to you about losing. That’s not speculative. It’s supported by the words of former Trump administration officials and campaign staffers, along with financial records.
To start, Federal Election Commission filings show the Trump campaign paid more than $1.35 million to two firms of expert researchers to prove fraud had swung the election in 2020. Neither was successful. Most Republicans have no idea that happened because Trump and his team hid it from them. If Ramaswamy believed the words he wrote last year, he’d be the bearer of this news.
The first firm, Berkeley Research Group, examined election results in six states. “Among the areas examined were voter machine malfunctions, instances of dead people voting and any evidence that could help Trump show he won,” The Washington Post reported, citing four people familiar with the matter. The second firm, Simpatico Software Systems, “studied more than a dozen voter fraud theories and allegations,” the company’s founder told the Post.
Both failed to find evidence of mass fraud. Both conducted their work in late 2020, before the riot at the Capitol.
The Trump campaign censored Berkeley Research Group’s findings, never making them public, because they disputed the Trump team’s electoral-fraud claims. Similarly, every “fraud claim” Trump’s team asked Simpatico Software Systems to investigate turned out “false,” the founder said. That also was kept from Republican voters.
A similar picture of deceit was painted by former Trump administration officials in their testimonies and interviews before the House Jan. 6 Committee. Begin with Jason Miller, a top 2020 campaign aide who rejoined Trump for his 2024 bid.
Miller revealed that during a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, his lead data expert, Matt Oczkowski, told him “in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose.” Trump was presented with foreboding polls in the spring of 2020 that showed him being defeated in multiple swing states. Miller also said he agreed with former Attorney General Bill Barr’s analysis that there had not been widespread fraud in the election (which is what Berkeley Research Group and Simpatico Software Systems concluded) and Miller claimed to have “said that to the president on multiple occasions.” One former campaign advisor told me, “Trump knew he was losing when his numbers tanked over his horrendous response to COVID. He just started living on TV like he was a doctor.”
Matthew Morgan, a former Trump campaign lawyer, said that nearly two months after the election, the consensus among many staffers was that “even if all the claims of fraud and irregularities were ‘aggregated and read most favorably to the campaign … it was not sufficient to be outcome determinative.” Richard P. Donoghue, a former top Justice Department official, recounted a conversation with Trump, in which the former president indicated he realized he had lost but was looking for ways to stay in office.
“The president said something to the effect of: ‘What do I have to lose? If I do this, what do I have to lose?’” Donoghue told the committee. “And I said: ‘Mr. President, you have a great deal to lose. Is this really how you want your administration to end? You’re going hurt the country.’” Donoghue also informed Trump the Justice Department had done “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews,” across several states and found “the major allegations [of fraud] are not supported by the evidence.”
Former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin revealed that in the days after the election, Trump tacitly acknowledged defeat to Joe Biden. “Can you believe I lost to this f—g guy?” he told her. Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson relayed an exchange that she and her former boss, then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had with Trump after the Supreme Court rejected a Texas lawsuit intended to overturn the election.
“The president’s just raging about the decision and how it’s wrong and why didn’t we make more calls and just his typical anger, outburst at this decision,” she said. “He had said something to the effect of, ‘I don’t want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don’t want people to know that we lost.’”
Ramaswamy seemed to be aware of this until recently. He also hinted at something else Trump did and which is connected to conservative victimhood.
Trump and his campaign fleeced Republicans by raising more than $250 million by claiming the money would go toward fighting fraud and, ultimately, overturning the election. The details about the money are true and independently verifiable, and that is presumably what Ramaswamy meant when he wrote that Trump “raised hundreds of millions of dollars from loyal supporters” following his loss to Biden.
Trump campaign aides Hannah Allred and Gary Coby said that the money was raised for an “Official Election Defense Fund,” as it was referred to in fundraising emails sent out until 30 minutes before Jan. 6 riot, that didn’t actually exist. In other words, Trump solicited cash from small-dollar donors for a fund that didn’t exist and used the money given for mostly unrelated things.
If he truly believed he had been robbed, why didn’t Trump use that $250 million to overturn the election like he said he would? Because Trump knew he lost and there was no point wasting the money. After all, cash from his political action committee, Save America, could be spent on golf club memberships, travel, or even payments directly to himself. The Jan. 6 Committee found that apart from funneling money into Save America, “election defense funds” also went to Trump’s business properties. There was no attempt to use those hundreds of millions of dollars to fund ballot initiatives and push for a massive election integrity campaign across the country.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion wrote in The White Album. Sometimes we tell them because the truth seems worse. None of the above is the story many Republicans want to hear or, apparently, tell. It’s the story we need, however, because it’s true, and it must be told if Republicans will ever escape the circular trap of defending Trump from problems that he has sowed for himself, but always seem to have greater consequences for his supporters. Trump knew that he had lost well before Jan. 6 but chose to instill in his supporters a state of desperation, feeding them false hope, raising $100 million in the first week after the election on the lies he used to wind them up, hyping them into a frenzy with promises of recourse, until, finally, leading them into a trap. In an instant, his “they’re not after me, they’re after you; I’m just in the way” claim reversed polarity: Trump asked his supporters to get in the way for him. But not even that was the end of their suffering.
In Michigan, citizens ranging in age from 55 to 82 years old are currently facing felony charges for their alleged role in Trump’s “false electors” plan to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. Republicans were quick to decry it as an example of a politicized justice system, dancing around the elephant in the room as Ramaswamy did in Iowa, ignoring why their enemies are able to harass grandmas and grandpas in the Midwest in the first place. You might say these Republicans are censoring themselves, indulging the conservative victimhood Ramaswamy once condemned.