An opposition research memo about the Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy that was written by the super PAC supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida invokes the entrepreneur’s Hindu faith and family visits to India.
The document’s first paragraph, addressing Mr. Ramaswamy’s past support for inheritance taxes, draws a link between that policy position and his Hindu upbringing as the son of Indian immigrants. “Ramaswamy — a Hindu who grew up visiting relatives in India and was very much ingrained in India’s caste system — supports this as a mechanism to preserve a meritocracy in America and ensure everyone starts on a level playing field,” the document states.
Mr. Ramaswamy is the only candidate joining Mr. DeSantis on the debate stage whose national or religious backgrounds were mentioned in any of the documents posted on the Axiom Strategies website. Highlighting a minority candidate’s ethnicity or faith is historically a dog whistle in politics, a way to signify the person is somehow different from other Americans.
The documents suggest that Mr. DeSantis’s allies view Mr. Ramaswamy as a threat as the Florida governor fights to remain in second place behind former President Donald J. Trump. With six months until the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Ramaswamy has been gaining on Mr. DeSantis in some public polls. In a separate debate strategy memo, Never Back Down officials advised Mr. DeSantis to take a “sledgehammer” to Mr. Ramaswamy in the debate as a way to create a “moment” for media coverage. They suggested that Mr. DeSantis call him “Fake Vivek” or “Vivek the Fake.”
Mr. Ramaswamy’s 2022 book, which the super PAC document quotes, makes a brief mention of Indian’s caste system in a passage about inheritance taxes: “India’s ancient caste system — at least the pre-British form of it — contains a similar vision.” He also refers to the economist Thomas Piketty, the philosopher John Rawls, Plato and ancient Rome.
The document was part of an extensive trove published on the company website of a political consulting firm working for the super PAC, Never Back Down, advising Mr. DeSantis of strategy that he could use in the debate in Milwaukee on August 23.
Asked to comment on the reason for highlighting Mr. Ramaswamy’s religion and background, the super PAC’S chief executive, Chris Jankowski, said in a statement: “We are highlighting that his philosophy of government is a direct reflection of his life experience. When his parents moved here from India, they had an 85 percent inheritance tax. In fact, his support of the inheritance tax is connected to the argument he makes in his book against meritocracy.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Ramaswamy, Tricia McLaughlin, said: “Vivek has traveled this country and is very grateful for the warm support he has received from Christian voters across the country. The one-off attacks on his faith do not represent the views of most Christians who respect Vivek’s forthrightness and honesty about his own faith.”
She added, “When they get to know him, they see that Vivek shares and lives by the same Judeo-Christian values that this nation was founded on — and that the way Vivek lives his family life offers a positive example for their own children and grandchildren.”