Somehow, in the name-recognition game that is presidential campaigning, and amid the cacophony of governors and senators and establishment regulars clamoring for the 2024 Republican nomination, the longest of long shots has emerged as Donald Trump’s toughest challenger: Vivek Ramaswamy.

That’s according to one new poll, or at least Ramaswamy’s interpretation of it. We’re in Des Moines at the Iowa State Fair, and in our short walk from the Agriculture Building to the Poultry & Rabbit Building, Ramaswamy tells me he views this primary as a race between him and the former president, full stop.

“When I said that at the start of this campaign, everybody laughed at me,” he tells me. “I think now everybody understands that’s where this is going.” He’s referring to a Cygnal poll this week that shows, among GOP voters across the U.S., Ramaswamy in the second-place spot, surpassing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Never mind that Trump maintains a monumental 42-point lead and that most polls still show DeSantis in second place. And never mind that most Americans have likely never even heard of Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur turned author. On the first point, Ramaswamy notes we haven’t even reached the first debate yet — he has plenty of time. And on the second, he’s even more comfortable.

“The Republican Party is going to become the party that nominates the outsider. And I think that’s what it’s going to come down to: which outsider do we want?”

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What Ramaswamy may lack in recognizability, he makes up for in confidence. Granted, he’s not the only one who views the 2024 GOP primary as a Trump-versus-all battle — any cursory glance at the current polls shows this — but he is far more outspoken than other candidates in declaring he is the solution.

Take Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, the 2012 GOP nominee who reportedly worked behind the scenes in 2016 to get the non-Trump candidates to coalesce around one candidate.

It didn’t work then; now, Romney is calling all candidates and donors to back a single Trump challenger by February 2024, shortly after Super Tuesday.

What does Ramaswamy think of this? I haven’t even finished the question before he interjects. “I don’t really care what Romney wants,” he says.

But what about the timeline? Is February a reasonable timeframe to have the race whittled down to two candidates, Trump and a non-Trump? “I don’t view the election that way,” he continues, chuckling. “It’s just about who the people want to select. ... And I think all of this other establishment artifice is nonsense.”

If Ramaswamy is anything, it’s anti-establishment. He’s largely self-funding his campaign, thanks to a net worth of over $600 million. He’s built his brand as an outsider and a firebrand through a steady beat of Fox News hits and book deals and CPAC appearances. He’s earned comparisons to the man he’s most focused on defeating, and some have gone as far as calling him Trump 2.0.

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But in many regards, on the scale of radicalism, Ramaswamy is a leap ahead of the former president.

“The choice is this: Do you want incremental reform, or do you want revolution?” he asked a group of fairgoers.

Trump didn’t go far enough in pursuing his agenda, Ramaswamy says. A Ramaswamy administration wouldn’t have that problem. A Ramaswamy White House, he says, wouldn’t pick fights with the FBI director; it would abolish the FBI altogether. It wouldn’t install a pro-school-choice Secretary of Education; it would dissolve the Department of Education. It wouldn’t decry voter fraud after the election; it would change the voting age to 25 or install a civic literacy test before voters reach the ballot box.

As we walk, I ask about immigration policy, an area in which Trump left an indelible mark. Ramaswamy is the son of Indian immigrants — “who came to this country legally, as patriots, through the front door,” he’s quick to add.

Ramaswamy has been as aggressive as any of the GOP candidates in proposing changes to the U.S. immigration system.

“Your first act in this country cannot to be to break the law,” he said in a Saturday speech at the fair. He said he wants to “universally” deport all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., send the military to the U.S. border and scrap all visa lotteries in exchange for what he calls a merit-based system.

What about refugees — those fleeing persecution, war or natural disaster? The president has unilateral authority to determine how many refugees the country admits each year. Would he set the annual refugee cap at 125,000, like President Joe Biden, or 15,000, like Trump, or somewhere in between?

“I would take it far lower,” he tells me. “I would say zero — darn close to zero.”

If a Ramaswamy administration did so, it would be unprecedented — the lowest since the 1980 Refugee Act took effect.

“I think we need pure merit-based immigration,” Ramaswamy says. “We put the interests of the homeland first. ... If it’s about advancing the interests of the citizens of this country, it’s not some other exogenous humanitarian objective.”

There would be exceptions in “special circumstances,” he explains, like admitting Afghans who aided the U.S. military to escape. But those exceptions would be rare. Humanitarian migration has no benefit to the U.S., in his view. “I mean, there’s a benefit to the world,” he says. “But unfortunately, I think our reality is that that’s hurting the United States.”

And yet, such an assertion isn’t even the most radical-sounding of his proposals. It is what’s gotten him attention, and a week and a half away from the first debate, it is what has helped him surge among a crowded field of political veterans. In choosing between reform and revolution, Ramaswamy doesn’t have to think long: “I stand on the side of revolution.”

Republican presidential candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during a fundraising event for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press