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Republican rivals keep criticizing Vivek Ramaswamy after fiery debate

After they traded attacks with Ramaswamy on the debate stage last week, the conflict has continued on the campaign trail.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy talks with reporters in the spin room after the conclusion of the first Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 presidential campaign in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, 2023.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy talks with reporters in the spin room after the first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Republican presidential candidates have found a new punching bag. 

Vivek Ramaswamy is “wrong on foreign policy, he’s wrong on American leadership in the world, he’s wrong on how we get this economy moving,” former Vice President Mike Pence said during a campaign stop in Iowa on Wednesday.

“His idea of breaking the partnership with Israel? Israel’s the first line of defense for Iran,” former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said while criticizing Ramaswamy’s foreign policy proposals at a town hall in Indian Land, South Carolina, on Monday.

“He looks to me to be the worst of what politicians are characterized to be: someone who says one thing, does another,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said of Ramaswamy on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

After months of campaigning that rarely saw candidates call out one another on the trail, the 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur endured the most attacks at last week’s GOP debate, and that’s now carrying over to campaign stops.

The onslaught comes as Ramaswamy moves forward in national polls, with FiveThirtyEight’s average showing Ramaswamy in third place at 9.2% nationally after a start-from-scratch campaign.

Another explanation for the wave of directed criticism: simple retaliation. Ramaswamy didn’t just receive the most attacks on the debate stage, he also launched the most. And his opponents were visibly annoyed.

“Do you want a super PAC puppet, or do you want a patriot who speaks the truth?” Ramaswamy asked the debate audience during an exchange with Pence.

“I wish you well on your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon,” Ramaswamy sniped at Haley, implying her stance on supporting Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion was influenced by the military-industrial complex.

“Give me a hug just like you did to Obama … and you will help elect me just like you did Obama, too,” Ramaswamy said, teasing Christie and referencing a hug between the two men when President Barack Obama visited New Jersey to tour Hurricane Sandy damage in 2012.

Ramaswamy is still clapping back from afar now.

“We understand these guys really need to fundraise, and invoking Vivek’s name is the best way to do that for them,” Ramaswamy communications director Tricia McLaughlin said in a statement to NBC News. “Mr. Pence, Christie, and Ms. Haley can rest assured such attacks will not disqualify them from future appointments in Vivek’s administration.”

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum have remained pacifists amid the intra-Republican fighting, reserving their fire for President Joe Biden — still the most frequent target of GOP candidates on the trail.

And there’s another candidate who has not gotten drawn in so far: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis has been steadily hammering Biden, big corporations and the media in his campaign speeches as well as the debate, and he’s steered clear of going after his Republican counterparts. That’s despite a memo from the pro-DeSantis super PAC, first reported by The New York Times, that advised the governor to “take a sledge-hammer” to Ramaswamy and call him “Vivek the Fake” during the GOP debate.

For now, DeSantis has avoided adding to the pile-on.