When a blind Chinese activist named Chen Guangcheng spoke at the Republican National Convention praising Trump for standing up to the Beijing regime in August, many Democrats called him ungrateful, as the Chinese lawyer and pro-life activist who exposed the evils of the one-child policy implemented in his hometown of Linyi was rescued from China and found refuge in America during the Obama administration.
Blue check accounts on Twitter were also bewildered about why any Chinese person, or Asian person would still support Trump in 2020 when he is an “anti-Asian racist” who made up nicknames for the virus like the “kung flu” and “China virus”. Surely, they believed in their detached-from-reality universe, those mean nicknames would seal the deal and make Trump lose every single Asian voter.
But what continues to puzzle liberals is that Trump continues to gain, not lose, minority voters across the board. In fact, according to recent polls, Trump has actually gained among Latinos and African Americans. One group of Latinos in particular have warmed up significantly to Trump, that being Cubans in Florida, a must-win state for him.
Trump cannot possibly be gaining among Asians especially after what he has been saying during the pandemic, right? Many Asian Americans, particularly Chinese Americans, are said to be greatly turned off by Trump doubling down on attacks against China, accusing him of anti-Asian xenophobia and scapegoating them in a pandemic which they did not cause. Surely, Biden is in position to run away with the Asian American vote, right?
What mainstream media and Twitter activists do not understand is that, when Trump tweets out “China virus” or shouts “China must pay a price for what it has done” at his campaign rallies, these comments are not anti-Asian. In fact, many, many Asians love it. They relish it when Trump attacks China. Not only are his “anti-Asian” comments making him more popular among traditional Asian demographics that lean red, he is also gaining from other Asian American groups with his blunt rhetoric and action towards Communist China.
See, Asians are not some unified bloc which acts all indignant when Trump attacks China. Many Asians do not see that as an attack on them, but instead as an attack for them. Anti-Communist and anti-Chinese sentiment run deep in many Asian communities, with the beef often going back centuries between Asian countries. Assuming Asians are united is as naïve as thinking Brits and Russians will agree on anything just because they are all “white people”.
If we dig through the data, we can find that Trump has made astonishing gains among Asian American communities that have overwhelmingly voted Democrat in the past, as well as consolidating and reinvigorating traditionally Republican voting bases. In 2016, according to exit polls released by the liberal activist group the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump in the Asian American vote by a margin of 79%-18%, which makes Asians the most solid voting bloc for her after African Americans. Margins among Muslim communities like Pakistanis and Bangladeshis were 96-2 and 96-3 for Clinton. Indian Americans went for her 91-8. Even the most pro-Trump Asian groups only voted at margins of 65% Clinton-32% Trump, among the traditionally GOP voting Vietnamese and 73%-24% Chinese American.
But fast forward four years, and one will be astonished to find that Trump has made tremendous gains among the Asian American vote. According to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey/AAPI Data poll sponsored by the liberal Asian Americans for Justice group in September, Biden is only leading Trump 55%-30%, a far cry from Hillary’s 2016 performance.
If we dig even deeper and break the vote down into ethnic communities, we will find a lot more astonishing gains for Trump. He is now winning the Vietnamese vote comfortably at 48% Trump-36% Biden, making them the most pro-Trump Asian bloc in America, completely reversing his performance in 2016. He has more than tripled his Indian American support, with him now on course to getting 28% of their votes instead of the 8% in 2016. And despite everything from banning TikTok and WeChat to tweeting about punishing China for the pandemic, he has only lost a few percentage points of Chinese American support, with 20% intending to vote for him this year compared to the 24% that voted for him in 2016.
But how can this be? What has Trump done right to substantially increase his Asian support despite everything the media has thrown at him to paint him as an anti-Asian racist? The answer will become clear as we break down the three Asian voting blocs: Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese, to show why Trump has a solid Asian base.
Vietnamese Americans — the Asian Cubans
Just a little more than 20 years ago, Asian Americans were actually trending Republican. Many of them were refugees and immigrants fleeing Communist rule, and during the Cold War the country that took them in was the United States, and the party which welcomed them were the Republicans.
The Vietnamese Americans are the most prominent example. The vast majority of them were South Vietnamese who fled Vietnam as the Communists from the North took over Saigon. Overwhelmingly conservative and Catholic, they were grateful to the GOP for supporting them and deeply resented the Democrats who controlled Congress in 1973 and decisively cut off aid to the South Vietnamese, directly leading to the Fall of Saigon. They also know the liberals like “Hanoi Jane” and hippies who chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” in the counter-cultural 1960s supported Hanoi and voted blue, so they decisively voted red. The Democrats betrayed American allies in South Vietnam in a war which could have been won and could have made South Vietnam into Southeast Asia’s South Korea. And the Vietnamese exiles remember that very well.
Fast forward a few decades, and that Vietnamese voting loyalty continued, which made them into the Asian Cubans, who vote GOP because of their staunch anti-Communism and their hatred for the tyrannical regime back home, and in turn made Orange County, California,one of the last solid GOP blocs in America’s bluest state. That loyalty has waned quite a bit in the twenty-first century, as younger Vietnamese Americans assimilated and entered liberal indoctrination camps — that is, America’s university campuses — and began to trend blue. Nonetheless, the powerful Vietnamese vote continues to bring Republican Vietnamese Americans into Congress and the California State Legislature.
But now there’s a new elephant in the room — or rather a thousand-year old one. China.
Sino-Vietnamese tensions have existed since before Christ was born. Vietnamese children learn in school that China invaded and colonized them for thousands of years, ruling Vietnam as a province of Imperial China, and the Vietnamese only liberated themselves around AD 938. Even after that, they were invaded again during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Of course, Chinese historical scholars would argue it is not as clear-cut as that and a lot of that history can be disputed, but the bottom line is this — China is to Vietnamese nationalism what Imperial Japanese invaders are to Chinese nationalists. And that sentiment is shared by the vast majority of Vietnamese from both Hanoi and Saigon.
Trump rose to prominence partly because he cultivated a “I can stand up to China” image. He has since launched a trade war against China, threw everything he has to shut Huawei down, ordered the Chinese consulate in Houston to pack their bags, and perhaps more significant to the Vietnamese, sent U.S. navy ships on “Freedom of Navigation” passages into the South China Sea, a place hotly contested between Vietnam and China. Even Communists in Vietnam have warmed up to him to counter Beijing.
On the domestic front, the Vietnamese Americans, especially older voters who have been lacking energy for a while, are terrified of how far left the Democrats have turned. Vietnamese Americans believe they worked hard to get to where they are, resent illegal immigrants and do not share the millenials’ naïve love of socialism, because they lived and suffered under it. Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric energizes them and assures them that he is the one barrier between socialist authoritarianism taking over their adopted homeland and their freedom.
All this might cost the Democrats not just the Vietnamese vote, but also a few House seats — Vietnamese Americans are currently preferring GOP candidates in Congress 45%-32%, and quite a few seats in California which Republicans want to win back are decided by these Asian Cubans. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese also live in battleground states such as Florida and Georgia, which can make their votes very consequential.
Indian Americans — new Trump fans
Unlike the Vietnamese, Indian Americans have never trended Republican. Moreover, Republicans have also never cultivated the Indian vote, unlike with the Vietnamese. But Trump saw an opening — and took full advantage of it.
That opening is Narendra Modi and his revolutionary transformation of Indian politics. He managed to transform India from a secularist-dominated left-leaning political landscape, to fully entrench his Hindutva-inspired, right-wing populist party in power. Trump and Modi, both populists, immediately began a bromance. And that gained him quite a few Indian American fans in the States.
Ever conscious of optics, Trump in true reality-TV style staged high-profile campaign events with Modi both on home soil and in India. “Howdy Modi”, a Trump rally-style welcome for Modi in Houston during the Indian PM’s state visit, attracted ridicule from mainstream media and Muslim American comedian Hasan Minhaj, but it also attracted 50,000 Indian Americans. Trump returned the favor and rallied for Modi in Gujarat this year just before the pandemic hit and received a raucous welcome on Modi’s home turf.
A bromance, of course, is not enough. Indian Americans are also practical people: they like Trump’s economic policies; besides, like the Vietnamese, they love his belligerent response towards China, especially after Indian and Chinese soldiers fought in a de facto battle in the Himalayas just a few months ago, which resulted in a massive Indian boycott of Chinese goods and soaring anti-China sentiment in India.
Current estimates say as many as half of all traditionally democratic voting Indian Americans may defect to Trump this year. Indian Americans number 4 million strong and may affect elections in important states such as Arizona and Texas. Biden condemning Indian actions in Kashmir isn’t exactly helping him, either, as he upset many Hindu Americans over his comments. AAPI’s 65% for Biden estimate among Indian voters may well be an extreme overestimate.
Chinese Americans — still a few faithful holding out
“Chinese Americans for Trump” made headlines back in 2016, when a prominent sign featured at Trump’s victory speech on Election Night and left many bewildered. But they are a real and sizable group in the community.
If there is one thing that makes Asian American voters stand out, it is how much more conservative first-generation immigrants are compared to their children. Mainland Chinese immigrants are no exception. They believe in law and order, support the police, oppose affirmative action which they believe favored African Americans and Latinos in college admissions over their children, and are terrified of socialism.
Many of these Chinese immigrants came to America searching for freedom which they did not have back home. Many came after 1989 as students who witnessed massacres in the crackdown following Tiananmen Square. In the decades that followed, dissident after dissident found refuge in America from the Beijing regime, including one Mr. Chen Guangcheng.
For decades they saw with dismay how many American politicians became apologists for Beijing as China’s economy soared and America became addicted to cheap Chinese goods. They saw politicians in D.C. pay lip service to human rights in China but do nothing, and people like Biden continued to praise Beijing, saying he “fully understands the one-child policy” during a visit to China, and continued to scoff and dismiss China as a threat as recently as last year. When Biden timidly tried to attack China over the pandemic in an ad earlier this year, he was called “racist” by his own liberal supporters and got called to withdraw the ad, which does not generate any confidence for “Beijing Biden”.
Trump was for them the first American president in decades whom they saw as someone tough on Beijing and able to hit Xi Jinping where it hurts. Sure, they would prefer Trump call the virus the “CCP virus” instead of the “kung flu”, but they love it when Trump hits out at Huawei and sanctions CCP officials over Hong Kong. As a matter of fact, Hong Kongers and Taiwanese Americans love Trump’s anti-CCP rhetoric too. If there is one flag that shows Hong Kongers’ view of Trump, it is this one: “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”
These ethnic Chinese voters will take Trump’s mean tweets any day over living a day under Communism. They know what it was like back home living under socialism, and what is at stake in this election. They too fear this election might hand over unchecked power to the leftists in the U.S. And they believe that Trump is the one president that has the correct tough approach to Beijing. If that means they will have to communicate with their relatives in China with an app other than WeChat, so be it.
Perhaps the most telling sign of who Beijing actually favors is this recent one: when the Vice-Presidential Debate took place a few days ago, the CNN signal in Beijing showed Kamala Harris when she talked, but when Mike Pence began speaking, the signal was immediately cut in true CCP-style censorship.
China is perhaps the best “get out the vote” machine for Trump. Every time Trump attacks China, he actually gets more Asian American votes, not less. Also remember that 15% of Asian voters remain undecided. If half of them go Trump’s way on Election Day, he might win 40% of the 2020 Asian American vote, double the votes he got in 2016. They are the fastest voting group in America and can play a significant role in many battleground states. Immigrants who fled socialism in their home countries may well become part of the bastion protecting America from falling to the left itself.