I have not yet decided on my candidate for president in 2024, but I know the two people I will not be voting for: Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Trump got my vote twice, and I don’t regret that even though I was never a full-throated supporter of the real estate-magnate-turned-media personality-turned politician-turned-indicted Floridian. He did some great things, and every time I look at the Supreme Court, I say a little prayer of thanks to the man who cemented a conservative majority for decades to come.
That said, he’s just not the man for the job in the next round. As far as Biden is concerned, and let’s put this in Catholic terms since both of us belong to the faith — in his case nominally in my own imperfectly: I would not cast a vote for him even if I were Joan of Arc and Biden was the guy holding a fire hose.
So that leaves me shopping for a candidate who appeals to my needs, preferences, and patriotism. So far, I’ve met one that comes very close to checking off every box.
I had the pleasure of participating in a recent town hall at the Union League, where tech billionaire and New York Times best-selling author Vivek Ramaswamy was the keynote speaker.
At 37, Ramaswamy is young enough to be my son, and as he stated quite proudly at the event, “I am the only Millennial running for president as a Republican.” Interestingly, though, he considers himself a GOP candidate more out of convenience than conviction, in the sense that while he is very conservative on most social and economic issues, he nonetheless rejects the constraints that party labels place on him. If he had to choose a party, the GOP is a better fit than the Democrats, but he refuses to be bound by party dictates.
In that, he reminds me very much of Donald Trump in 2016, an outsider who chose to run as an insider.
Ramaswamy’s main focus at the town hall was the fentanyl crisis destroying a generation of people, mostly young but also older people, who began their tragic downward spiral decades ago. Before arriving at the Union League, Ramaswamy was on the ground in Kensington, doing something more of our would-be leaders should do — seeing the lived experience of struggling Americans with his own eyes.
He walked the degraded streets of Kensington with former U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnett and media personality Benny Johnson, who emceed the program later in the evening. Ramaswamy said what he saw shocked him. But as he noted at the town hall, it also confirmed for him that this cultural carnage is a result — not the root cause — of the addiction problem.
Speaking to the town hall audience, Ramaswamy weaved in topics like immigration reform, our dependence on China, and the need for more rehabilitative tools. Ramaswamy was also an extremely eloquent advocate for “pro-life” social reforms. In fact, he made sure to point out that while he is pro-life, he believed that every life has value, including those lost souls wandering about like zombies in Kensington. The late Cardinal Bernardin promoted the “seamless garment” argument: every life must be treasured, from conception to natural death.
Underlining his point and proving that behind every addict is a grieving mother, two women who had lost three sons between them to fentanyl overdoses gave powerful testimony and witness to the crisis. They urged Ramaswmany to remember their sons’ names as he continued his campaign: Tyler, Joshua, and Austin.
Another important point made at the town hall by panelist and local attorney George Bochetto was the laxity of prosecution by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. That was also an underlying theme for Ramaswamy, the need to support law enforcement and work with it as partners, not view police and other first responders as an impediment to social reform.
Listening to Ramaswamy speak was a revelation. Here was someone who honed his skills at Harvard and Yale, who had been extremely successful in the biotech world, and who was pouring millions of his own money into a campaign for change. A campaign, as the banner behind him read, for “Truth.” I was not the only person impressed by his spirit and his ideas.
As I said, I still haven’t made my final choice. But being part of that town hall put me a lot closer to a decision than I expected to be over a year out from the election.