AUSTIN (Nexstar) — GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy spoke at The University of Texas of Austin in a packed auditorium Thursday afternoon.

In his opening remarks, Ramaswamy was critical of how America was facing a crisis regarding free speech, where Americans are unable to voice their true thoughts.

“The best measure of the health of American democracy is the percentage of people who feel free to say what we actually think in public,” Ramaswamy said. “Right now, we are doing poorly.”

As a way to emphasize the need for people to speak their minds, Ramaswamy opened the floor up to questions full of UT college students.

One student asked a question regarding the current ongoings in Israel and Gaza, and Ramaswamy’s position on the entire situation. Ramaswamy was critical to avoid entering another prolonged war, referencing the US’s past involvement in the Middle East against the Taliban.

“We cannot make the same mistakes of the past,” Ramaswamy emphasized. “My job as the US president is to be a good long run ally because that advances U.S. interests, but also to make sure that we don’t enter inadvertently—another U.S. involved—no-win long-range war.”

Ramaswamy launched his presidential bid in February and has quickly grabbed popularity nationally. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling data, Ramaswamy ranked third nationally in the primary field on Thursday, surpassed only by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump.

Contrary to most other GOP candidates, Ramaswamy has openly praised Trump’s presidency and has advocated to pardon Trump for the federal crimes for which he has been indicted for.

Outlined on his presidential website, Ramaswamy has been outspoken on reviving “American National Identity,” which has an emphasis of border security, social media use, and DEI policies.

The event took place at the recently renovated Hogg Memorial Auditorium at UT Austin at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday.