Trump sets sights on Indian American voters ahead of 2020 – POLITICO

Narendra Modi and Donald Trump

President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France on August 26. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo


2020 elections

The president hopes to appeal to Indian Americans at massive ‘Howdy Modi’ rally with popular Indian leader.

President Donald Trump is expected to headline his largest rally yet on Sunday when he appears in Houston in an effort to appeal to a growing political force in the United States: Indian Americans.

Trump will speak to an expected crowd of 50,000, mostly Indian Americans, who are flocking to the most diverse city in the nation to catch a glimpse of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at what is being touted as the largest event in the U.S. for a leader of foreign country.

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He hopes to peel off some Indian American voters who could be attracted to his business friendly agenda, especially the 2017 tax cuts, his tough talk on terrorism and his decision to show up at the rally even though the ethnic group has generally backed Democrats.

“It’s giving a message to the Indian community that Trump is a big friend of India,” said Rupesh Srivastava, a Michigan businessman and founding member of the Republican Hindu Coalition. “That message will definitely motivate people.”

Republicans have been trying for years to make inroads with Indian Americans, one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, who register and vote at high rates.

The Republican National Committee is holding events for Asian Americans, including voter drives, appointed a director of Asian Pacific American Engagement and stresses the record low Asian unemployment rate of 2.1 percent. Still, Trump’s re-election campaign is expected to forego an official Asian American coalition in lieu of those for blacks, women, Hispanics and workers, according to people familiar with the plans.

“These are your Indian American hotel owners, they’re your Indian American doctors, maybe retired doctors, who frankly like some of the president’s policies, right?” Ohio state Rep. Niraj Antani, an Indian American Republican. “We are the most highly educated, highest-earning ethnic group in the country so when we are talking about pro growth-policies, Republican policies work for them.”

Still, more than 80 percent of Indian Americans voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, according to polling by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Some Indian Americans, whose families came to the United States legally to study or work, don’t mind Trump’s rhetoric on immigration since it’s primarily about illegal immigration but others are turned off.

Trump’s job approval with Indian Americans was only 28 percent in 2018, according to the Asian American Voter Survey, a poll of registered Asian-American voters. About 66 percent of disapproved.

“If Republicans believe Donald Trump’s appearance with Prime Minister Modi will move our community towards the president, they’re sadly mistaken,” said North Carolina State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, an Indian Ameican Democrat. “In 2020, I believe the Indian-American community will overwhelming reject Donald Trump because his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies run completely counter to our community’s story in America.”

Trump delighted — and surprised — Indian Americans when the White House announced that he would join Modi at Howdy Modi: Shared Dreams Bright Features at NRG Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans.

Trump may have agreed to attend to appease Modi after a tense few months between the two leaders, according to some observers of U.S.-India relations.

Trump kicked India out of a trade preference program for developing countries in March and then infuriated Indians again in July by insisting Modi asked him to mediate in the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir. But the two leaders are now expected to finalize a limited trade deal later this week when they meet for a second time in New York.

Trump may also be fascinated by the popularity of Modi, who — like Trump — rode to office on a wave of populist fury and launched a “Make in India” campaign years. Trump previously commented on the number of Modi’s Twitter followers and insinuated last week the Houston rally’s attendees grew because of him.

“He’s got a big crowd coming and I guess the crowd just got a lot bigger because…he asked, would I go, and I will go,” he told reporters.

Houston’s Indian-American community, consisting of roughly 150,000 people, lobbied Modi to visit after he announced he would visit the United States. All 50,000 tickets for the event were claimed in three weeks — before Trump announced he would attend, according to event organizers. Another 5,000 remain on a waiting list.

It will take place in a state that long served as a Republican stronghold but where Democrats are making a play after their party saw significant gains in the 2018 midterms and a series of GOP congressional retirements.

The rally — which will be broadcast on U.S. and Indian TV — will include a cultural program and speeches by Trump and Modi. Thousands of watch parties have been organized across the U.S.

The first time he ran for office Trump promised to work with Indian Americans. He spoke to 10,000 Hindus waving signs that read “Trump for Hindu Americans at a Bollywood themed event in Edison, N.J., home to a thriving Indian community. “I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India,” Trump said awkwardly.

During that campaign, Illinois businessman Shalabh Kumar donated nearly $1 million to the joint fundraising campaign comprised of Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee

In 2016, about 1.2 million Indian-American were registered to vote with Indian-Americans, according to Asian American and Pacific Islanders Data. Estimates put Indian American voter registration at 1.4 million in 2020.

After he got into office, Trump celebrated Diwali, the most important holiday for most Indians, and appointed Indian Americans to numerous high-ranking positions — Nikki Haley to ambassador to the United Nations; Seema Verma to administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Neomi Rao to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Ajit Pai to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, among others

“Looking back to the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump was the first candidate who stood on stage and said ‘I loved Indians,’ ” said Adi Sathi, who served as director of Asian Pacific American Engagement at the RNC for two years. “That was unprecedented.”

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