Indian-American supporters of the Republican Party in the US are slowly but surely falling behind Donald Trump, the party's controversial nominee, who has promised a safer, better and stronger America.
Broadly, their reasons include Trump’s unforgiving stance on terrorism, his promise to stop illegal immigration, his business ties with India and his tough position on China and Pakistan. At the bottom of it all, there is fear that America is no longer what it used to be, or what they want it to be – the ultimate superpower.
Trump’s largely self-funded campaign has also impressed Indian-Americans who feel he won’t be beholden to special interests and big banks.
‘Indian Americans for Trump’
They are joining the early enthusiasts from the New York-New Jersey area who formed a political action committee in January to support a Trump candidacy. The group, Indian Americans for Trump, was first seen as a maverick group for an equally maverick candidate. But it may no longer be on the fringes.
AD Amar, a professor of business and president of the group, said the members of his “educational and informational committee” were increasingly getting support. He said that some 10 or 20 “Trump people” were in touch with the group on a regular basis.
Amar said that he has studied “Trump’s business methods” and was impressed by his “sharp eye for problems.”
“Trump is a better candidate for America and all those countries that are America’s friends, including India,” said Amar, who unsuccessfully ran for the US Congress in 2008.
“Have you ever heard him say anything against India?” he asked, adding that Trump has cited India as a country that is doing well without getting due credit.
Amar blames the Democratic Party for using illegal immigrants, who come mostly from Latin America, as a vote bank of sorts. “Illegal immigrants are trying to change our culture instead of assimilating by learning English,” he said.
The group’s message spread to different states as Trump began winning primary after primary, eliminating all 16 party rivals one by one.
The more traditional Indian American backers of the Republican Party took notice – some out of party loyalty and others after being convinced by Trump’s arguments.
Most of the Indian American community – nearly 65% – support the Democratic Party, while 18% favour Republicans, according to a 2014 Pew survey.
The reasons have to do with the Democrats being seen as more inclusive and diverse and the Republicans being seen as largely a preserve of whites.
The slim segment of mostly wealthy Indian Americans that supports the Republican Party has never faced a Trump-like candidate before as most recent nominees such as George W Bush or Mitt Romney were traditional and pro-establishment.
Trump is neither. Some don’t want to come right out and say they agree with Trump’s prescriptions but they admit they find America can’t afford business as usual.
The ‘immigration problem’
For instance, Ashok Mago, a Texas-based community leader close to the Bush family and recipient of a Padma Shri award in India, said that he has “always supported the nominee of the party” even though he found some of Trump’s views troubling.
“We will never agree with someone 100%,” said Mago. “The question is whom do you agree with more?”
He added that Trump talked about issues that traditional politicians would never raise, such as illegal immigration.
“Every country needs to control its borders,” he said. “During Reagan’s term, millions were given amnesty with a promise it will never happen again…Now they are talking about amnesty for nearly 11 million illegal immigrants. We know we can’t deport them all but how long will you continue to absorb them?”
He conceded that Trump’s style did not appeal to all, but said that he hoped the Republican nominee would make changes.
“Trump seems like he is coming up with new ideas,” he said. “Looking at the latest national poll, he is ahead. He has a good chance to win the White House.”
In a CNN/ORC poll published on Monday, Trump led Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton by three points: 48% to 45% but the gain is within the margin of error. A CBS poll had Trump at 44% and Clinton at 43%. But there is little doubt that the contest has become closer than before.
The cost of Obamacare
Dr Sampat Shivangi, a Mississippi resident prominent in Republican circles, said he didn’t support Trump at the beginning because of his statement on immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
He was hoping Senator Rand Paul or Jeb Bush would get the nomination and when they bowed out, Shivangi said he didn’t know whom to support.
“We are now with Trump,” he said. “People gave Trump a 1% chance to win the nomination but now he is the 100% nominee. In a democracy we have to go with the majority opinion.”
Shivangi has found several reasons to rationalise his choice. He said “Trump is a doer” and made almost $8 billion to $9 billion in business. Besides, under President Barack Obama, he said, the US has lost respect in the world. “He could not control ISIS and it happened because of his weak foreign policy.”
His other grievance is against Obamacare, the healthcare law passed by the president against intense Republican opposition, which gave nearly 12 million Americans health coverage. Trump has vowed to repeal it.
Shivangi claims Obamacare has reduced the income of physicians by nearly 70%, which makes it nearly impossible to pay technicians who work for doctors.
He is less than enthralled by Clinton because of the scandals around her, including the latest about the party structure undermining her rival Bernie Sanders during the primaries.
“Hillary is no saint,” he said, recalling the e-mail controversy about Clinton using a private server as secretary of state, which was against the rules. After a long investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently decided no charges could be filed.
Dr Anita Gupta of New Jersey calls herself undecided, saying she “leans back and forth” between the two candidates. Primarily interested in healthcare policy, she is concerned that neither candidate is discussing policy details to help her decide. She attended the Republican convention and is at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this week.
She gives credit to Trump for talking about national security issues to make sure “we’re not in harm’s way.” She admitted that there was a problem with Muslim immigrants to the US but the way Trump worded it wasn’t “appropriate.”
Even though officially uncommitted, everything she said indicated she might be leaning Trump’s way.
Secret Trump supporters
Anand Ahuja, vice president of Indian Americans for Trump, said there were many supporters who won’t come out until voting day because of Trump’s negative image. He himself is afraid to put a Trump sticker on his car because of fear it might be vandalised.
Ahuja, who is a lawyer, said many Sikh families would also vote for Trump because Sikhs appreciate the nominee’s hard stance on terrorism. But they don’t want their names in public. In the face of rising Islamophobia, Sikh men have been repeatedly attacked and even killed in the wake of terrorist attacks in the United States because their beards and turbans mean they are often mistaken for Muslims.
With support for Trump seemingly growing within Republican Indian-Americans, it is noteworthy that key Republican foreign policy and strategic experts wrote an open letter opposing a Trump presidency. That, however, seems to have had little or no impact on Trump’s overall support in the general population.