Discover more from Friendly Atheist
Does Vivek Ramaswamy's Hinduism really matter to GOP voters?
Nope. Not if he's the eventual Republican nominee.
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
The media loves covering shiny new objects, and an upstart presidential candidate with no real political background tends to get outsized attention.
That’s certainly been the case with Republican Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, who pitch to primary voters is that he’s young, slick, full of the same bullshit grievances as typical conservative voters, and an alternative to Donald Trump… if GOP voters actually want that.
So far, they don’t.
A recent poll of Republican primary voters put Trump’s support at 52%, Ron DeSantis’ at 12%, and Ramaswamy’s at 10%. That’s embarrassing as hell for DeSantis, who has spent the past year acting like he’ll coast to a primary victory despite flailing on the campaign trail, and shocking for Ramaswamy, who is a relative unknown.
On paper, he’s an appealing candidate for Republicans. The 37-year-old is the son of Indian immigrants, a self-made multi-millionaire, and someone who takes the most irrational positions on every “culture war” issue, whipping out the word “woke” at every possible opportunity. He’s a shield for accusations of right-wing racism, the sort of person who might be able to pick up independent and younger voters, and an alternative to candidates who’ve spent the past several years (if not longer) in the public spotlight. Also, he didn’t incite an insurrection or commit any other major crimes.
He’s not Trump, though. Which means, as far as the GOP presidential primary goes, he’s just an afterthought… for now. He’s likely someone who sees running for president as a launching pad for a more profitable and public-facing career in the future.
But suppose he became the nominee.
There’s one major aspect of his biography that could be a problem for Republican voters: Ramaswamy is Hindu.
How much does that matter to GOP voters?
“I looked up his religion and saw he’s Hindu,” [Bristol Smith] recalled. “I was going to vote for him until that came up.” What the country needs is to be “put back under God,” as Mr. Smith sees it, and he doesn’t want to take a chance on someone who is not a Christian.
At that point, he said, “I got back on President Trump’s train.”
The irony of that statement shouldn’t go unnoticed. That voter refuses to "take a chance on someone who is not a Christian” while pledging loyalty to Donald Trump, a man who famously doesn’t give a shit about Christianity, and doesn’t know much about it, but begrudgingly plays the part like a grade school actor attempting to perform Shakespeare.
And yet Ramaswamy has attempted to convince white evangelicals he’s one of them in spirit if not in religious label.
“I’m not Christian. I was not raised in a Christian household,” he told Mr. Vander Plaats in June in front of a small audience at the headquarters of his organization, the Family Leader. “But we do share the same Christian values that this nation was founded on.”
“I don’t have a quick pitch to say, ‘No, no, that doesn’t matter,’” he said of the theological differences between Hinduism and Christianity. “It’s that I understand exactly why that would matter to you.”
At campaign stops, Mr. Ramaswamy refers to Bible stories, including the crucifixion of Jesus, and quotes Thomas Aquinas. He frequently mentions his experience attending a “Christian school” in Cincinnati (St. Xavier High School, a Catholic school). And he contrasts “religions like ours,” which have stood the test of time, with the competing worldviews of “wokeism, climatism, transgenderism, gender ideology, Covidism,” as he put it to an audience in New Hampshire.
Instead of trying to convince voters he’s a good Christian—which, by definition, he’s not—he’s playing up his support of Christian Nationalism.
It’s not a bad strategic move. Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats spoke positively of Ramaswamy, as did Trump propagandist David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
But there has been some pushback from Christian mouthpieces who have used their platforms to promote Trump while spreading misinformation.
As Right Wing Watch noted last week, just days after Christian Nationalist host Gene Bailey interviewed Ramaswamy for the show “FlashPoint,” Bailey had to reassure his audience that “this program is based 100% on the Christian Bible” and that they needed to know “when someone of another faith begins to gain popularity.” (Apparently, just saying “We interviewed a possible president!” isn’t a good enough rationale.)
On Sunday, right-wing preacher Hank Kunneman joined the chorus of people railing against the Hindu candidate, denouncing Ramaswamy’s “strange gods” to his church and telling his congregation they “will have a fight with God” if they support a candidate who “does not serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Kunneman insisted Trump was God’s chosen candidate anyway: “When God raises up a deliverer, you better recognize it.” (Again, the irony.)
If Ramaswamy were to somehow become the GOP candidate, though, would any of this really matter?
Would a significant portion of the GOP base refuse to vote out of principle because they could not support a non-Christian from their own party?
There’s a famous poll Gallup does every four years asking Americans if they’d support a presidential candidate from their preferred political party if that person were a ____. In 2020, 92% of Republicans said they’d support a (hypothetical) Jewish candidate and 42% said they’d support a (hypothetical) Muslim candidate. I have to think those numbers would skyrocket if there was an actual name on the ballot and the alternative was a Democrat.
It’s not entirely hypothetical. In 2012, Mitt Romney had the support of 96% of Republican voters before the election despite being Mormon (which evangelicals will gladly tell you is not Real Christianity™). Exit polls showed him getting 93% of the eventual Republican vote compared to President Barack Obama getting 92% of the Democratic vote.
The point being: When there was only one option on the table for Republican voters, their insistence on having a Christian candidate who shares their theology no longer matters as much as having someone in office who’s sympathetic to their views.
The same can be said of Trump. Whatever misgivings some evangelicals may have had about Trump in 2016, his (outsourced) nominations of right-wing judges and his open hostility against LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, Democrats, women, and damn near everyone in America who ever criticized or challenged him won over right-wing Christians. (Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler opposed Trump in 2016, but came around to supporting him in 2020, because bigots love bigots.)
It didn’t matter to the roughly 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2020 that he wasn’t really a Christian like they were. He gave them the attention and lip service they craved and he governed as if he were one of them. His clumsy religious cosplaying never bothered them that much.
Forget what any of these conservative Christians are saying right now against Ramaswamy’s Hinduism because they’ll eventually come around if he’s the candidate. They’ll all find justifications for supporting him, just as they’ve done in every recent presidential election. Ultimately, for white evangelicals, both Trump and Ramaswamy fall under the label of “Not exactly one of us, but he’ll give us what we want, so we’re fine with him.”
How could that happen despite all those public proclamations about the need to have a Christian Nation? Because Christian Nationalists don’t actually give a damn about theology. They just want to use their power to hurt everyone they hate. As long as politicians talk about how great Jesus is, and how this nation owes everything to the Bible, and how they support Judeo-Christian “morality,” it doesn’t matter what they actually believe about God. Polytheism will always take a back seat to politics.
Republican candidates and their voters don’t have to be united under Christ as long as they’re united under cruelty.
A quick side note: All of this is hysterical when you consider how former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who’s also Indian, has gone out of her way to make herself seem less foreign, changing her first name and converting religions. Based on poll numbers, though, Republicans don’t seem to give a damn. Ramaswamy’s support is more than double what she’s got right now.
Meanwhile, there’s a good chance that Mike Pence, arguably the most stereotypically white evangelical candidate in the field, won’t even find enough Republican support to make the first debate stage. GOP voters want nothing to do with him for reasons that are independent of his faith, suggesting yet again how meaningless that label has become for Republican voters.
If you appreciated this article, please subscribe to my newsletter for free (!) or share this post on Reddit, Facebook, or the godawful Bird app.