We went to Vivek Ramaswamy’s ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

Photos by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

October 6, 2023

As I sat on a park bench eating a bacon-grilled cheese sandwich, drinking an Exile Ruthie straight from the tap, and chit-chatting with a few folks, I almost forgot I was at a campaign event, which might have been the point.

Ohio businessman turned rising GOP star Vivek Ramaswamy hosted “Vektoberfest” on Thursday at the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater in West Des Moines.

“Vektoberfest” was less like a political rally and more like a small-town Iowa community event mixed with a little bit of politicking after guests were filled with free food and drinks.

Seeing as that I’ve covered Vivek’s events in Cedar Rapids, Indianola, Pella, Newton, and several multi-candidate events in Des Moines that he was at, I knew what to expect from Vivek’s speeches but I had no idea what to expect with “Vektoberfest.”

The first text I received about it almost sounded too good to be true, especially for a political event: “Republican candidate for President Vivek Ramaswamy is hosting a one-of-a-kind event on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5th at 5 pm, and YOU’RE INVITED! There will be live music and family entertainment. Free food, soft drinks, and beer will be provided.”

I checked his campaign site to confirm this was a legitimate event. Not only was it real, but the campaign site also promised a drone show.

So a little after 5 p.m. on Thursday, I made my way to the West Des Moines city campus where the amphitheater is located and prepared myself for “Vektoberfest.” His team made sure people knew exactly where to go because Vivek’s “Truth” signs were everywhere.

We went to Vivek Ramaswamy's ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

I followed the signs, checked in at the media table, and took a lap around the “Vektoberfest” grounds. I had to admit I was impressed with all the amenities. The entire area was decorated with hay stacks, pumpkins, and dried corn stalks. There were also a few “Vektoberfest” signs around to remind you of whose event this was.

We went to Vivek Ramaswamy's ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

 

Right next to the entrance was a 360 photo booth. Just around the corner from that was a beer truck with mostly local brews on tap and a few national brands sans Bud Light—this was a Republican event after all.

Next to the beer trucks was a grilled cheese food truck, a tater-tot food truck, another grilled cheese food truck, and it capped off with a cookie dough food truck. The green space in front of the trucks was occupied by yard games, including several cornhole (or bags) setups and ladder toss (I had to Google “yard game with balls on a string” to figure out what that game was called.)

A little farther down from the yard games was a pumpkin carving station where people could use markers to decorate their gorgeous creations. Also, it was probably a good idea not to have a bunch of sharp objects in a crowded space featuring little kids, a guy running for president, and other elected officials.

There was also a band playing on the stage and a Vivek merch stand.

The candidate himself made the rounds while surrounded by a mix of onlookers and national media.

When I entered the scrum, I saw Vivek interacting with a 10-year-old super fan named Lena who was wearing a T-shirt that featured a photo of her and Vivek at another event. After I tweeted out a photo of that, people pointed out that the image on Lena’s shirt featured yet another photo of the duo.

We went to Vivek Ramaswamy's ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

Vivek Ramaswamy and a young admirer at “Vektoberfest” in West Des Moines. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

 

It was the Nickelback “Photograph” meme come to life.

As the evening wound down, it was time for the politics.

Former state senator turned Vivek staffer Jake Chapman served as the emcee. Chapman introduced State Rep. Eddie Andrews, State Treasurer Roby Smith, and his own wife as speakers before Vivek took the stage.

Vivek entered to Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder/Young Broke & Dumb” (I also had to Google this). He then introduced the crowd to Lena. She had recently passed the citizenship exam that Vivek suggested people needed to pass before being able to vote. He also tossed out his signature white “Truth” hats.

Vivek delivered a longer and slightly retooled version of his stump speech. As he began to close with his signature “10 Truths,” some lights started to appear in the sky from the west: It was the drones!

We went to Vivek Ramaswamy's ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

 

“We fight for the truth. We fight for the truth and we stand up for the truth. This is our 1776 moment,” Vivek yelled into the mic while he pointed to the drones as they spelled out “This Is Our 1776 Moment.”
We went to Vivek Ramaswamy's ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

Two decades ago, something like this would have been a poison pill akin to Howard Dean’s campaign-killing scream heard around the world. But this is 2023 and not 2004; “Vektoberfest” wasn’t even the oddest political event I covered this week.

I can’t lie, I walked to my car smiling thinking about the absurdity of my job and politics as the drones above me created various images and phrases including Paul Revere, a John Deere tractor, and the Statue of Liberty.

The drone show culminated by spelling out “Caucus for Vivek Jan 15.” That’s right people, we still got three more months of this.

 

by Ty Rushing
10/06/23

 

 

 

 

 

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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