How Trump Used Modi's Visit as a Campaign Stop
When a crowd of 50,000 people gathered at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas last week, it wasn’t for a football game, but for a visit to the United States by the recently re-elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.
Modi enjoys immense political support in India. His BJP party won the 2019 general election by 251 seats over their closest competitors. With Modi’s right-wing, populist policies and obvious connection to one of the most economically successful ethnic groups in the United States, it should come as no surprise that President Donald Trump chose to make an appearance at the event.
President Trump would benefit greatly from a strong U.S.-India relationship, both in terms of international affairs and electoral success. India could act as a valuable counterweight in a region dominated by China and its close ally, Pakistan, while also serving to energize the Indian–American electorate.
Both Trump and Modi stressed the importance of this relationship, exchanging pleasantries and compliments that drew raucous cheers from the crowd gathered around them. Praising his accomplishments and leadership style, Modi recounted Trump’s journey to the White House, “From CEO to Commander-in-Chief, from ballrooms to the Oval Office, from studios to global stage, from politics to the economy and to security, he has left a deep and lasting impact everywhere.”
Trump responded in kind, praising Modi’s recent electoral victory before going on to emphasize the traits of the Indian-American diaspora, “I’ve also come to express my profound gratitude to the nearly four million amazing Indian-Americans all across our country. You enrich our culture, you uphold our values, you uplift our communities, and you are truly proud to be American. And we are proud to have you as Americans.”
Beyond Trump’s laudatory rhetoric, Indian-Americans enjoy the highest median income of any ethnic group in the United States. Indian-Americans hold a number of high profile corporate positions, with the CEOs of Google, Adobe, and Microsoft all being of Indian origin. In addition, five percent of physicians are of Indian origin, despite the group as a whole comprising only 0.9 percent of the general population.
Despite this professional success, Indian-Americans have low political representation, with just five Indian-American members holding seats in Congress. A Republican party that could appeal to a business-minded and fiscally conservative subset of the Indian-American demographic would stand to gain much political power in certain areas, both in the form of direct voting and political contributions.
The task will not be an easy one, however. Indian-American voting patterns have held strongly Democratic over the past two decades. Trump’s stances are bitterly divisive amongst the Indian-American community, who appreciate his hardline stance on terrorism, but have issues with his anti-immigrant rhetoric and attempts to stymie the number of H1B visas granted to legal immigrants.
With what appears to be a close-fought Presidential election approaching, only time will tell if President Trump’s efforts are enough to sway a voter bloc that cast over 84 percent of its votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016.