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Vivek Ramaswamy says he's running an "America first" campaign, urges Iowans to caucus for him to "save Trump"

At a packed diner in Corning, Iowa, a voter proclaimed, "I'm a Trump girl, but you're on my radar" to Republican hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy during a December campaign stop. 

Her sentiment echoed that of many caucus goers — she likes Ramaswamy, but not enough to be swayed from former President Donald Trump.

Ramaswamy has taken a unique and somewhat puzzling path in the Republican presidential primary. He's presenting himself as Trump's biggest supporter and the natural successor to Trump — even though Trump himself is a 2024 candidate, and polls consistently show the former president leading the field. But until recently, Trump has spent little time in Iowa, while Ramaswamy has essentially moved to Iowa and campaigns constantly, apparently trying to outpace Trump.

Those efforts have been on display at an array of events: Ramaswamy hosting town halls and offering free drinks on college campuses, challenging college students to push-up contests, and recording TikTok dances with YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul. 

He's the first presidential candidate ever to complete a "Full Grassley" — visiting all 99 counties in Iowa twice over — with multiple campaign stops in a day. 

Ramaswamy has also increasingly leaned into conspiracy theories that resonate with a fringe element of the Republican Party as the race continues. He has suggested the Jan. 6, 2021, riot was an "inside job" and raised questions about the 9/11 attacks.

"I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers. Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right? I have no reason to think it was anything other than zero. But if we're doing a comprehensive assessment of what happened on 9/11, we have a 9/11 commission, absolutely that should be an answer the public knows the answer to," Ramaswamy told The Atlantic, suggesting federal agents may have been on the plane during the 9/11 attacks. 

He's expressed doubts about the thwarted kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. And recently, he floated the idea that political elites plan to replace President Biden as the Democratic nominee.

After disseminating his conspiratorial views across Iowa, Ramaswamy secured the endorsement of Steve King, the nine-term former Republican representative from Iowa with a history of incendiary, racist rhetoric.

In the eyes of the highly loyal Republican base, Ramaswamy has positioned himself to secure support from Trump backers not as a frontrunner, but rather, as a sidekick or potential future candidate.

While Trump has said he likes Ramaswamy, there's no indication that he would be considered for a vice presidential role.

Ramswamy often says at campaign stops that the America First agenda doesn't belong to one man and touts himself as the candidate who can push it forward while bringing in a new base of Republican voters, despite struggling to poll past the single digits and lagging far behind the former president in Iowa and New Hampshire. Trump often summed up his foreign policy priorities as America First — emphasizing that U.S. national interests should always be the first consideration.

Jamila Jones, 38, a Floridian who moved to Iowa to attend university, said, "I really like Vivek. He's outspoken, he says what he needs to say, and he's very upfront and honest."

But between Trump and Ramaswamy, "definitely Trump," Jones said.

"I think maybe in the next four years; 2028, I think he should definitely run again, and he might get that top seat, but right now, it's all Trump," Jones added.

While attempting to pull from the former president's base, Ramaswamy has positioned himself as a candidate who will "save Trump."

"We will honor his legacy more than anybody else. I go so far as to say if you want to save Trump and his legacy, but save Trump, the man himself," he said in Decorah, perhaps referring to a pardon for the former president, who is facing 91 felony charges in four different cases. "I'm gonna ask you to vote for me. And I know that's counterintuitive, but that's what this country requires. And I think that's why I'm going to stay in this not only through this Iowa caucus, but through the very end."

Ramaswamy says he and the former president have a "good relationship," and he has consistently vowed to pardon Trump, whose legal woes he characterizes as a witch hunt to keep Trump from returning to the White House. 

He often tells voters on the campaign trail that the deep state won't allow Mr. Trump to be the Republican nominee, and promotes himself as the alternative.

"Next year, there's gonna be a lot of unexpected things that play out in 2024. If you want to follow where this road ends, my concern is they're not going to let certain candidates like Donald Trump get to the finish line," Ramaswamy said during a Fox News interview.

Ramaswamy as Trump running mate?

"Why not wait until 2028 to run when Trump is out of the race?" and "Would you be VP on a Trump ticket?" Both are questions that are raised often at Ramaswamy events across Iowa and New Hampshire. 

"President Trump should take somebody maybe that hasn't been in politics before. Vivek is good but he needs more experience I think," said Vernon Glen Millsap, 67, a retired postal service worker from Iowa, who thinks Ramaswamy might be a good vice president for Trump.

The Ohio businessman insists he's not running for second place — and he has fresh legs in a war that he says Mr. Trump has been wounded in. But he's also committed to removing his name from primary ballots in states where Mr. Trump's eligibility is under question unless the former president can appear on those ballots. Ramaswamy says he wants to win, but not by knocking out the competition. His campaign has even sent out mailers in Iowa touting that commitment in hopes of encouraging voters in the Hawkeye state to caucus for him, but missing from the mailers is even a photo of Ramaswamy. Instead, it shows Trump's mugshot. 

When asked directly by a voter in Estherville, Iowa, if he'd be Trump's running mate, Ramaswamy responded, "If Donald Trump is the nominee, he will have my full support and whatever way he needs it."

With under a week remaining until the Iowa caucuses, Ramaswamy says he's planning for victory, though poll numbers say otherwise, and so many of the voters CBS News has spoken with see him as their second choice. 

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