Ramaswamy on the Rise: How the Newcomer Is Making Team DeSantis Sweat

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The Republican presidential primaries continue to heat up as the candidates vie to become the main challenger to former President Donald Trump, who still maintains a considerable lead over the rest of the field. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has stayed in 2nd place in the polling, has experienced a slump in his campaign, which has allowed entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy to pose a significant threat to his position.

Perhaps this is the reason why DeSantis-aligned organizations are reportedly targeting the upstart. But if DeSantis manages to fend off Ramaswamy’s ascension, when will he finally begin taking on Trump?

Politico obtained an audio recording in which Jeff Roe, head of the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, bragged about the organization’s role in a slew of attacks against Ramaswamy:

The top strategist for Ron DeSantis’ super PAC privately told donors that Vivek Ramaswamy posed a threat to the Florida governor — and bragged that the super PAC was behind an avalanche of opposition research targeting the rival candidate.

“Everything you read about him is from us,” Jeff Roe, the leader of the DeSantis-aligned Never Back Down told the gathering of donors. “Every misstatement, every 360 he’s conducting or 180 that he is going through in life, is from our scrutiny and pressure. And so, he’s not going to go through that very well, and that will get worse for him.”

Roe was speaking just hours before the first GOP primary debate, in remarks captured in an audio recording obtained by POLITICO. During his question-and-answer session, he conceded that if Ramaswamy had “a big night” at the debate, it could prove problematic for DeSantis. “That’s not great for us, short term,” he added.

Tricia McLaughlin, a spokesperson for Ramaswamy’s campaign, responded to the report:

“When DeSantis’s Super Pac campaign, Chris Christie, the New York Times, MSNBC and the rest of the bipartisan establishment are all going after you at the same time, you know you’re right over the target.

“America watched Vivek dominate the debate stage, it’s no wonder Never Back Down is pissing away another $20+ million after Labor Day.”

The entrepreneur became a magnet for criticism after the debate over his flip-flopping on certain issues. He has also been pilloried for some of his fantastical ideas, including raising the voting age and endorsing a federal ban on children using social media. Yes as DeSantis’ campaign experienced some considerable setbacks, Ramaswamy has risen in the polls, some of which show him tied or beating the governor.

It makes sense that Team DeSantis would be concerned about the immediate threat Ramaswamy seems to present. If they do not manage to turn the campaign around, their candidate could easily be surpassed by the entrepreneur. But, with DeSantis’ name recognition, performance as governor, and popularity among the conservative base, his team still has a favorable chance of remaining the primary challenger to Trump. It begs the question: When will DeSantis start taking on Trump with full force?

If the governor wants the GOP nod, he will have to take on the frontrunner at some point. Perhaps his campaign is playing the long game while he builds his war chest and continues establishing his conservative credentials. However, this won’t work forever. Republican voters want someone who is willing to get in the mud and throw some kicks and punches. DeSantis has shown he can duke it out with the press on several occasions, but he has yet to display this attitude when it comes to his main primary opponent.

Focusing on Ramaswamy might be wise as a short-term strategy, but the clock is ticking. As more candidates drop out of the race, the governor will have to do what is necessary to solidify himself as the best choice for the Republican Party. If DeSantis wants to break further away from the pack, he will have to take on the other “big guy.” This will be the true test of his political acumen. At some point, DeSantis will have to slay the dragon and take on the man who has defined Republican politics since 2016: Donald Trump.

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