With just two days left until the Iowa caucuses, former President Donald Trump has started to criticize Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy as the two have appeared to maintain a friendly relationship on the campaign trail up until this point.
"Vivek started his campaign as a great supporter, 'the best President in generations,' etc. Unfortunately, now all he does is disguise his support in the form of deceitful campaign tricks," Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social, on Saturday.
The criticism marks the first time Trump and his team have made direct, public attacks against Ramaswamy.
It stemmed from shirts that Ramaswamy's campaign is handing out that say 'Save Trump, Vote Vivek' on them. Ramaswamy posted a photo with a group of young men wearing them after his event in Rock Rapids, Iowa, on Saturday, which caught the former president's attention.
"Very sly, but a vote for Vivek is a vote for the 'other side' — don't get duped by this. Vote for 'TRUMP,' don't waste your vote! Vivek is not MAGA," Trump added.
Senior Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita took it even further, calling the claim a "fraud."
"Here is a great picture of this campaigns number one FRAUD," he wrote on X, quote tweeting a picture Ramaswamy had posted with supporters wearing the shirts.
"Trump doesnt need "saving," LaCivita added.
After Trump's post, Ramaswamy again praised Trump, saying he respects "the hell out of Trump" and that he's the "best President of the 21st century." But he doubled down on his claim that Trump's political enemies aim to narrow the GOP field into a "2-horse race" between Trump and Haley and that they will eventually "eliminate" him from the race.
"OPEN YOUR EYES to the hard TRUTH: this system will stop at nothing to keep this man away from the White House," Ramaswamy continued.
Ramaswamy posted an extended comment Saturday night on X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he reiterated his respect for Trump and referred to the former president's comments as an "unfortunate move by his campaign advisers, I don't think friendly fire is helpful."
Ramaswamy also continued to claim that Haley and Trump were being positioned as the two candidates in the race with the end goal of eliminating Trump from the contest.
"We can't fall for that trap. 1 year from now, we won't look back and say we were shocked that it happened. We'll kick ourselves for not stopping it," he wrote in part on X and added that "you won't hear any friendly fire from me."
Until now, Trump has largely avoided criticizing Ramaswamy due to his strong praise and defense of the former president. However, the criticisms come as voters will start making their voices heard in the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Monday and as Ramaswamy has started to become more direct in laying out the case for why he is the Trump alternative.
On the campaign trail, the businessman-turned-presidential hopeful has pitched himself to Trump-leaning voters as the best of both worlds: someone with experience as a businessman who also has a deep understanding of the Constitution. Ramaswamy founded biotech company Roivant Sciences and 'anti-ESG' asset management firm Strive.
"I think what you actually need is a hybrid of the legal knowledge of a Ted Cruz with the business capabilities to execute of a Donald Trump," he told a voter in Okoboji, Iowa, on Saturday. He has been describing himself as "the future of America First."
The favorable attitude appeared to have been mutual, with Trump often leaving Ramaswamy out of his continued bashing against his 2024 rivals. After the GOP debate last month, Trump even declared Ramaswamy the winner, saying "Vivek WINS because he thinks I'm great."
But recently, as he hops from one town hall full of Trump supporters to another, Ramaswamy has also been comparing Trump to a "wounded" soldier in a war, saying "If you want to save Trump," Iowans should vote for him instead. He claims that Trump's political opponents will not let the former president near the White House in order to prop up Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, citing Trump's removal from primary ballots in Colorado and Maine.
"If you want to save Trump – not just save this country – but save Trump, I believe a vote for me is the best way to do it," Ramaswamy said at a town hall in Ottumwa, Iowa, last week.
"I don't even think they're gonna let the guy get anywhere within spitting distance of the White House," Ramaswamy again said at a Fairfield Pizza Ranch in December. "Think people. What do you think? What do you see? They're giving you every clue you can from Colorado on down. Don't play into that game."
"Let's go to the new direction," Ramaswamy continued. "Take our movement, same principle, same ideals."
Ramaswamy pledged to remove himself from Colorado's Republican primary ballot in solidarity with Trump in response to the state's Supreme Court's ruling that he is ineligible to run in the state over his activity surrounding Jan. 6, and even filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, seemingly questioning Trump's lawyer's ability to represent him well.
"Frankly, I don't know if they're gonna make the best legal arguments on their own," Ramaswamy said at a campaign stop this week.
Ramaswamy, who Iowans often ask on the campaign trail if he would consider being Trump's running mate, has even joked that he would instead consider Trump as his VP pick or adviser, saying he wants to learn from Trump's experience.
"I think that's actually a great role for an 80-year-old," Ramaswamy said at a town hall in Fairfield, Iowa, last month. "I would take him as an adviser. I want to know where the bodies are buried. I want the experience of what he tried to do that he couldn't ultimately end up accomplishing."
Trump criticizes Ramaswamy publicly for the 1st time ahead of Iowa caucus originally appeared on abcnews.go.com