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How Vivek Ramaswamy has changed his characterization of Jan. 6

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(NEW YORK) — Most candidates at the first GOP primary debate said former Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing by certifying the 2020 election results while also suggesting it’s time to move past Jan. 6. The question was not posed to Vivek Ramaswamy though, who has been vocal in his condemnation of alleged government lies that he says have fueled national division around former President Donald Trump and his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In a contentious interview on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Ramaswamy echoed earlier statements he made to the National Review by saying Pence missed “a historic opportunity … to unite this country” when he certified the results of the 2020 presidential election. During his appearance on the show, he also said that if he had been in Pence’s position, he would have implemented his voting reform proposal by Jan. 7, the day Pence certified Biden’s win, before “declaring a reelection campaign” and certifying results.

His proposal: single-day voting via paper ballots requiring a government-issued I.D. “matching the voter file.”

“If we achieve that, then we have achieved victory, and we should not have any further complaint about election integrity,” he said.

Ramaswamy has said that he would extend limited accommodations for absentee voting to people with disabilities, for example, but he does “not think that is an excuse for creating [a] multi-week voting processes with ballot harvesting, and mail-in voting that undermines public trust in our elections,” he told reporters recently during a campaign stop in Pella, Iowa.

Ramaswamy’s views on Jan. 6 and Donald Trump’s role in it have evolved since 2021. The presidential candidate once called Trump’s actions on the day “downright abhorrent” and criticized “stolen election” claims in his second book, Nation of Victims.

“It was a dark day for democracy. The loser of the last election refused to concede the race, claimed the election was stolen, raised hundreds of millions of dollars from loyal supporters, and is considering running for executive office again,” he wrote in the book. “I’m referring, of course, to Donald Trump.”

Now, two and half years later, Ramaswamy seems to give the claims slightly more credit, focusing on public distrust stemming from the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol and standing on his commitment to pardon Trump and those now facing federal charges related to that day to “move the country forward,” he said in a live town hall with NewsNation in mid-August.

Ramaswamy, who has said that he would have made different decisions than Trump on Jan. 6 but does not consider Trump’s actions criminal, told ABC News that his comments condemning Trump in the days after the riot were about how he handled Jan. 6.

“What I would have done? … Starting that day under the same circumstances, I would have said, as soon as there are people violently approaching the Capitol, ‘Stand down,’” he said in an interview with ABC News.

“Standing by while protesters turned violent, I think, was a bad mistake of leadership,” he added while reiterating, “I don’t think Donald Trump was the cause of Jan. 6.”

Although he says he stands by his writings, maintaining as he wrote a year ago that he has not seen evidence of mass ballot fraud, he attributes his new views in part to skepticism over “the truth about the Hunter Biden laptop story,” he said on the Sunday news program. What has remained the same, however, is Ramaswamy’s assertion that higher powers are at play, whether it be Big Tech and censorship, as he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in 2021, or what he calls the “administrative state,” which he defines as an unofficial fourth shadow branch of government that has influence over political and civic action.

The supposed nuance of Ramaswamy’s views, however, does not always appear to come across as he may hope, something that played out in real-time at a campaign event in Newton, Iowa, after Ramaswamy answered a question about how to restore faith in the U.S. voting system due to ongoing debate over the validity of Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.

“So many Republicans have lost faith in our voting system. And they say they’re not going to vote because it doesn’t matter. How are we going to change that?” one voter asked.

Explaining his proposal, Ramaswamy asked that attendees join him in “dropping our complaints about ballot fraud or election integrity” if it were to be enacted. Though many applauded, another voter called his stance “offensive.”

“I just want to be honest, and your answer was slightly offensive. We … the United States of America has the most secure elections,” she asserted. “I don’t think you’ve ever actually worked an election.”

Ramaswamy told ABC News on Friday that he sees his voting reform proposition as an appropriate common ground for bipartisan efforts to resolve a pressure point in the country. Asked by ABC News as he met with a group of press after the Newton, Iowa event later if he thinks the U.S. has secure elections and if Trump or the indictments against him have affected public opinion of election security, Ramaswamy said: “I think the indictments have shaken public trust in our institutions, in our government more generally, to a pretty bad place.”

“I’ve laid out a very practical, a deeply pragmatic, and I believe noncontroversial approach to restore that public trust,” he said.

ABC News’ Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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