The Indian-born Chicago industrialist who takes credit for flipping the Hindu-American vote for candidate Donald J. Trump in the 2016 campaign is warning that unless something is done quickly, those voters will desert Trump his 2020 reelection fight.
“This time around, as far as the Indian-American or Hindu-American vote is concerned for Trump – it is completely, totally screwed up,” said Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, who is the founder of the AVG group of companies that supply technology parts solutions to the automotive and telecommunications industry.
Although, Kumar and his guests were given prominent seats at Trump’s Aug. 28 acceptance speech on the White House’s South Lawn, he said he cannot get a meeting with the Trump campaign – nor can he get permission to organize a Hindu-American committee for Trump – yet.
“They should celebrate if they get 30 percent. They could get as little as 10 percent that would be my guess,” he said.
To put that in perspective, Kumar said Republican W. Mitt Romney garnered 16 percent of the Hindu-American vote in 2012, while Trump collected 65 percent.
If there are 2.5 million Hindu-American voters, that is a swing of 400,000 for Romney to 1,625,000 to Trump four years later.
Democrats learned lessons from 2016
“There are two reasons the Democrats are doing so well with Hindus. One, having suffered a major reversal in 2016, Democrats organized themselves really well,” he said. “They paid a lot of attention to it and in the summer of 2018, they launched different organizations and they started to campaign with all the Obama senior-level executives.”
A textbook example of the Hindu alumni from President Barack Obama’s administration campaigning for the Democrats is former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, he said.
“Murthy gives talks to Indian-America groups and he vouches for Joe Biden and he tells the story about when Biden swore him in as surgeon general – he says before the ceremony, Biden asks to meet his grandmother in a wheelchair and he tells his grandmother how proud she should be of her son – and then, Biden touches her feet. Murthy is crying. People in the audience are crying.”
“Harris, she is coming out hot into the Indian-American community, she had gone to an Indian-American home and someone released the video – and that video has gone wild,” he said.
“At this time, they have a phenomenal apparatus, a phenomenal operational structure – they have 5,000 volunteers, who are going door-to-door-door,” he said. “Already in the battleground states, they have gone to 200,000 homes – and they have pledged, and they will come close, they have pledged to deliver 1,000,000 votes in the nine battleground states.”
The nine battleground states are the six from 2016: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, plus Arizona, Georgia and Minnesota, he said.
Kumar pioneered Hindu-American political outreach
Kumar is not a newcomer to Republican politics and he marks credits his conversion to Ronald Reagan, whom he met by accident in 1979. Reagan then introduced Kumar to Jack Kemp.
Ten years ago, Kumar said he started working on how to improve Republican outreach to the Hindu-American community, partly by Nikki Haley’s 2010 run for South Carolina governor and partly out of frustration with the GOP’s own ham-fisted attempts. “Republicans talk to your brain, but Democrats reach out to your heart.”
Beyond his emphasis on emotional appeals, Kumar paid for an intense demographic project, so he could accurately poll Hindu-Americans, who even now are hardly ever isolated out as their own crosstab in polls. Instead, they are mixed in with “Asians,” which means the pollster assumed, Hindus, who hail from not just India, agree have the same political views as Koreans and Filipinos.
In his research of Hindu-American demographics, Kumare said he struck upon the similarities between his people and Jewish-Americans, especially when it came to the focus on education and cultural resilience. Using the Republican Jewish Coalition as he model, he founded the Republican Hindu Coalition in 2015 as a way for Hindus in the United States to punch above their weight class.
In the 2016 election cycle, Kumar was authorized to operate an officially affiliated campaign committee. In August 2016, the industrialist met at Trump Tower with Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway and Campaign CEO Stephen K. Bannon—just after they took over the campaign—about his plan to flip the Hindu-American vote.
With official status, Kumar was allowed to raise millions for the 2016 Trump campaign and to make ads buys, such as for the Trump commercial he shot in Trump Tower. In the commercial, Trump says: “Abki bar Trump Sarka,” which means: This time, a Trump government.
This was a play on the slogan: This time, a Modi government, used by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the commercial has more than 12 million views on YouTube, which Kumar said was fine with him, because the Hindus watching were not laughing – they were impressed Trump was making the effort.
Kumar: Trump still has time to win over Hindu-American votes
Despite the Democrats making inroads on issues such as work visas and immigration, most Hindu-American voters are more concerned about Islamic terrorism and the rise of China as regional aggressor, Kumar said.
“It is telling that the Democrats always talk about Indian-Americans – not Hindu-Americans,” he said. “It is because they know if they say the word ‘Hindu,’ they will upset their Muslim supporters.”
Kumar said there is still a chance to take hundreds of thousands of votes away from Biden in the last weeks of the 2020 campaign – if he can gets the go-ahead from Trump campaign.
Right now, he said he cannot even get a meeting.
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Neil W. McCabe is a Washington-based national political reporter for The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. In addition to the Star Newspaper, he has covered the White House, Capitol Hill and national politics for One America News, Breitbart, Human Events and Townhall. Before coming to Washington, he was a staff reporter for Boston’s Catholic paper, The Pilot, and the editor of two Boston-area community papers, The Somerville News and The Alewife. McCabe is a public affairs NCO in the Army Reserve and he deployed for 15 months to Iraq as a combat historian.
Photo “Donald Trump with Shalli Kumar” by Shalli Kumar.