- Pandering to an audience mostly consisting of supporters of Prime Minister Modi, the third child of President Trump plays the China-Pakistan card
President Donald Trump’s younger son and vice president of the Trump Organization, Eric Trump, visited Georgia, Tuesday (Sept. 15) morning as part of the President’s re-election bid.
Ahead of the November 3 presidential elections, the Trump campaign has intensified its outreach towards the Indian American community, particularly in the battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas.
As part of this effort, Eric Trump met with members of the community at the MAGA event organized by the Atlanta chapter of the national organization, Indian Voices for Trump, in Duluth, Georgia.
Resplendent in a ceremonial flower garland (haar), Eric Trump (sans mask), was welcomed by shehnai, band baja and a Hindu prayer. Speaking to an auditorium with standing room only, most of who were members of the Indian business community –real estate agents, hoteliers and entrepreneurs – Eric Trump began his speech by lauding the incredible marble workmanship of the Swaminarayan temple, and place of worship to many members of the community, as an exquisite architectural structure.
Drawing parallels between the Trump family and the Indian American community in terms of family values, and love for God and country, Eric Trump vigorously pandered to the Indian community. He reminded his audience that Indian Americans represent “the best of America” and that his father, Donald Trump, “will never ever let them down,” all the while, stressing that the whole Trump family “loved this amazing community.”
“We as a family, we truly love you. We truly love you. We truly love what you represent. You represent the best of America. You represent the best of society. And I can tell you, my father will never, never, ever let you down, “said Eric Trump to a cheering audience, adding, much to the joy of those present, “India is a spectacular country with amazing people,” all the while pointing out that the Trump organization have property and business interests in the region.
Speaking at the event Ritesh (Rick) Desai, board member of Indian Voices for Trump from Atlanta and organizer of the event in Atlanta, said, “Friendship with India is a natural fit for them (the Trump family). My personal opinion is that the Republican principles align better with our community. So, the intent of this event was for him (Eric Trump) to meet as many people in the community as possible, to interact and encourage them (to vote). To let us know that we mattered.”
Eric Trump also referred to his father’s policy on China and Pakistan, which he said, “was very different from his predecessors.”
Touching a nerve, Eric Trump fanned community fears as he pointed out, “You see the problems Indians are having with China and will likely have with China and in fact the whole world will probably have with China at some point. Past presidents have emboldened China,” adding, “and only you know the problems with Pakistan better than I ever will.” This fiery comment was met with loud applause from the audience.
Members of the Indian Voices for Trump claim that the community is moving towards the Republican Party in significant numbers thanks to Trump administration’s support to India on key issues – such as and anti-China and anti-Pakistan sentiment.
“Democrats have been pro-China and Pro Pakistan. Throughout this process, you (Democrats) have not said anything in support of India,” said Desai.
Earlier this week, a survey by Indiaspora and Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Data, showed that Trump has made inroads into the Indian American vote bank, the biggest ever by a Republican President, which has sent worrying signals to the Democrats who can no longer take the support of this influential ethnic community for granted.
“Every vote matters, especially during this election, it is more so. I think the recognition of the vibrant and influential Indian American community as a vote base has become much more central in this election,” said Desai, adding “this is the first time I’ve seen the community get so mobilized.”
Republicans and Democrats alike are wooing over 1.3 million Indian American voters seen as key to winning the Nov 3 race to the White House between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Donald Trump has worked for years to make inroads with Indian Americans in ways Republican presidential candidates never have — recruiting volunteers at Indian grocery stores, holding events in five Indian languages and paying for targeted digital ads, focused on the economy, education and the relationship between Trump and Modi, who both rode to office on a wave of populist rhetoric.
There are an estimated four million people of Indian origin living in America with about a third – 1.3 million — eligible to vote, who have largely favored Democrats in presidential elections. But this time, a large number of Indian American Democrats would be moving towards Trump, Al Mason, co-chair of the Trump Victory India American Finance Committee, told a virtual rally, organized by Americans4Hindus, a nonpartisan political action committee, according to media reports.
“So far, Republicans have had only 20 per cent of the votes. Fifty per cent of those (Democratic) votes are going to come into the president’s column,” Mason was quoted by American Bazaar, citing his own research. This sudden massive shift in voting behavior towards the Republican Party is because “Indian Americans love Trump,” he claimed.
Mason cited as an example the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston last September where Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went around a packed stadium holding hands.
The virtual rally Hindus4Trump organized by Americans4Hindus, was watched by a record 100,000-plus Indian Americans on social media and online, the group claimed.
Adding to that, Desai explaining the shift in voting behavior said, “From a fundamental point of view, we (Indian community) want to work for everything we get. We are not looking for handouts. Unfortunately, that’s not where the Democratic Party is. They want to give away everything for free. There are no free lunches. Our community recognizes that.”
Joe Biden undercut Republican efforts to make inroads into the community, when he selected Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, as his running mate. Within days, Harris was speaking to Indian Americans on India’s Independence Day about her grandfather, who helped push for India’s liberation.
“There was a level of enthusiasm that came out of the diaspora almost immediately when Sen. Harris was named as the vice presidential nominee,” said Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), one of four Indian American members of the House. “There was palpable excitement definitely from the younger generation.
As Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside, who directs the Asian American Voters Survey said, “It was always going to be an uphill climb for the Trump campaign to make significant inroads with the Indian American population, but that has now become near impossible now with Kamala Harris’ appointment.”
But as Desai points out many Republicans are not buying that. “There is some pandering going on from the Democrats, saying that Kamala Harris is Indian-American, so you should vote for her. And some may buy into that. But she doesn’t identify as Indian. Making dosas on TV with media personalities and eating samosas and wearing a sari, just so you can take our money and our vote, doesn’t make you Indian. Indians are not dumb,” adding that he personally knows many Democrats, that were not Trumpers, two years ago and now are saying “that there is no way on God’s green earth that they can vote for that side (Democrats).”
About 1.8 million Indian Americans are eligible to vote this year, many living in competitive states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada, where their vote could make a difference. Traditionally, Indian Americans have voted for Democrats at a higher rate than other Asians — Trump garnered just 16 percent of the Indian American vote in 2016 — but polling has shown rising Indian American support for the president. Now, 28 percent of Indian Americans support Trump, though 68 percent support Biden, according to the latest Asian American Voter survey released Tuesday, September 15.
“In an era where elections are being won so narrowly, you cannot write anyone off or count anyone out,” said Neil Makhija, executive director of IMPACT, an Indian American advocacy group. “Indian Americans can make all the difference in critical swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas.”
Younger Indian Americans born in the United States tend to be more liberal, so Trump has tried to appeal to an older generation of Indian Americans who legally immigrated to the United States for work or school, still follow Indian politics and support populist Prime Minister Modi.
When asked after his speech whether he made the trip to Georgia because Democrats believe the state could flip blue in November, Eric Trump said, “We don’t take anything for granted. There’s tremendous love, there is tremendous enthusiasm and we come, and we say thank you as a family.”
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.