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Vivek Ramaswamy calls DeSantis "uncourageous" over delayed support of Trump before his indictment

Vivek Ramaswamy, the conservative author and pharmaceutical company entrepreneur who launched a long-shot bid for the presidency in late February, believes that at the end of the GOP nomination race, he and former President Donald Trump will be the two top candidates.

He doesn't think that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is "suited to be a leader of our country" and called him "fundamentally uncourageous," noting the length of time that passed before DeSantis publicly addressed Trump's earlier claim that he would be indicted

"Anyone that's coming in as sort of a professional politician, with all the plastic features, I don't see our base ending there. I think they need the outsider," Ramaswamy told CBS News during a visit to Washington D.C. earlier this week.

Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old Indian American CEO who has been a frequent guest on Fox News, has been visiting early presidential primary states and says he will launch a daily podcast about his campaign soon.

But he is still a relatively unknown figure to the GOP base. In early presidential primary polls, Ramaswamy's name either has not registered or a plurality of voters have said they don't know who he is. In a February Monmouth University poll, 49% of Republicans said they hadn't heard about him. 

But Ramaswamy, whose presidential run is his first run for office, argues he can be the "outsider" politician that the Republican base — and Trump's base of voters — want.  

"It's not going to be immediate. It's going to be a 14- to 16-month project," Ramaswamy said of his campaign.

He claims he would take Trump's "America First" agenda "further than he ever did" — and in a less divisive way. Ramaswamy vowed to "take on" affirmative action, the "climate cult," show a "use of force to solve the [Mexican drug] cartel problem" and says he would shut down the Department of Education, which he maintains has "no reason to exist," a stance popular among a number of Republicans, including Trump. 

Ramaswamy feels the country is in "the middle of a national identity crisis" and that younger generations think of themselves as "victims rather than victors," a core stance in one of his books.

"Conservatives are hungry, they want to go further, but they don't want to abandon the moral core of conservatism," Ramaswamy said, without answering whether Trump has damaged that "moral core," as Trump faces an arraignment next week in Manhattan, while several other investigations of the former president are underway.

Ramaswamy believes that the presidential primary race will change after the first debate in August, especially for DeSantis, whose potential candidacy has attracted wide interest among Republicans already. 

"He happens to be the one that I think the country believes might actually be a career politician who has a shot, [but] I think that we the country and the Republican base certainly will see through that act. I think they're already starting to," Ramaswamy said. 

DeSantis has not officially launched a 2024 run yet, but has been making visits to early presidential primary states and battleground states to promote his new book and talk to local Republican groups. And in early hypothetical surveys of the 2024 field so far this year, DeSantis is always in the top two with Trump, with many other candidates trailing far behind. 

Still, Ramaswamy is eager to take on DeSantis directly, and characterized him as a kid who grew up "in their sheltered environment" and said DeSantis has created an "echo chamber" of support in Florida. 

DeSantis "indulged himself into thinking that's actually the world. The world's not going to be nice to you, man," said Ramaswamy.

"We're talking about representing the freaking United States of America on the global stage. That can't be the guy. He doesn't have it. I know he's deeply insecure. He won't tell you whether he got the second shot. He's not going to tell you whether he got the second shot — what business [does he have] standing up to Vladimir Putin," Ramaswamy said. He also criticized DeSantis' fights with Disney and investment management company Blackrock

CBS News has reached out to DeSantis' political team for comment.

Ramaswamy was one of the first in the potential 2024 field to show public support for Trump after he predicted he would be indicted, which he says he did "on principle." Ramaswamy said he was not sure how this indictment or any future charges stemming from other investigations of Trump will affect the nomination race. 

As for the rest of the potential 2024 field, Ramaswamy was quick to label them "professional career politicians" who would not win the support of Republican primary voters.

Of former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the only other declared candidate in the race besides Ramaswamy and Trump, the biotech entrepreneur said she was a "classic case" of a "professional career politician." "I think she and DeSantis share a lot in common, even though they appear different," he said. 

He said of former Vice President Mike Pence that he's a "good man — career politician, who actually does express his beliefs."

Of Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is also mulling a presidential bid, that he "seems like a nice enough man — I think he's still deciding who he wants to be," Ramaswamy said.

A native of Cincinnati, Ramaswamy was considered to be a potential GOP challenger to Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio in 2024, but told CBS News he has ruled out a run and has his eyes set on the presidency. 

Fin Gomez and Fernando Suarez contributed to this report.

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