Former President Donald J. Trump attacked Vivek Ramaswamy, who is most closely aligned with him in the race for the Republican nomination, accusing the wealthy entrepreneur of engaging in “deceitful campaign tricks.”
“A vote for Vivek is a vote for the ‘other side’ — don’t get duped by this,” Mr. Trump said on social media, adding that “Vivek is not MAGA.”
An hour earlier, a senior adviser for Mr. Trump, Chris LaCivita, also attacked Mr. Ramaswamy on social media as a “fraud” in response to a photo showing supporters of Mr. Ramaswamy wearing shirts displaying Mr. Trump’s mug shot that said “Save Trump, vote Vivek.”
The attacks from Mr. Trump and one of his top aides in quick succession suggest that the Trump campaign has deliberately shifted toward attacking Mr. Ramaswamy in the final days before Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
In a video posted to social media that appeared to be an indirect response to the attacks, Mr. Ramaswamy offered effusive praise for Mr. Trump, though he argued in conspiratorial terms that “the system” would keep Mr. Trump out of the White House and instead elect former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, whom Mr. Ramaswamy called a “puppet.”
Mr. Ramaswamy, who ostensibly is running against Mr. Trump despite having been the former president’s most enthusiastic defender on the campaign trail, has long been in a peculiar entente with the primary’s front-runner. Though Mr. Trump has gleefully mocked his opponents in the race on social media, he has held his fire against Mr. Ramaswamy and even praised him as a loyal supporter.
The change in strategy from Mr. Trump may reflect a calculation from his campaign that Mr. Ramaswamy, who is in a distant fourth place in the polls in Iowa, is taking some support — however small — from his campaign. Mr. Trump is hoping for an overpowering win in Iowa to shut out his strongest competitors and demonstrate that he has already all but secured the nomination.