Haley & Ramaswamy: Too close yet too far from presidential dream


New Delhi, April 29

"I wish I could answer YES with lots of confidence," quipped California state Assembly candidate Darshana Patel on being asked whether the US is ready for an Indian-American President in 2024.

"I think that there are persisting, misguided fears of divided loyalty from Indians and even all Asian Americans," Patel told IANS, hoping that the upcoming election cycle will perhaps break these barriers.

A reason enough to stay optimistic though is the rapid rise of the community in a country that has successfully elected Indian-American local officials, judges, governors, and several Congressional representatives.

Now, two out of the three candidates tossing their hats for the Republican Presidential nomination are Indian-Americans.

While two-time former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced her 2024 run by playing up on her Indian roots, her Republican rival and anti-woke crusader, Vivek Ramaswamy, spoke of restoring American values and the need to "put America first", reminiscent of the third GOP candidate and former President Donald Trump.

Ideologically, both represent America First, and they understand -- like their predecessor and former Louisiana Governor Piyush Bobby Jindal -- that their ethnic background alone cannot win them an election.

If political observers are to be believed, both Haley and Ramaswamy will at best be marginal campaigns for it is difficult to clinch a presidential nomination in a party that is largely dominated by whites.

Just after Haley announced her presidential bid in February, prominent Pakistani-origin writer Wajahat Ali said that she is the "perfect Manchurian candidate" for white supremacists and bigots.

Ali also reacted to racially-charged comments by Conservative pundit and author Ann Coulter, who called Haley a 'bimbo' and asked her to "go back to her own country".

"The reason I feel sad is because no matter what she does, it will never be enough. They will never love her. And if you don't believe me, what did Ann Coulter tell proud American Nikki Haley two days ago? 'Go back to your country'. Nikki, they'll never love you. It ain't worth it," Ali had said.

While Haley faces a real challenge from her former boss Trump, history suggests that it is difficult for someone like Ramaswamy with no political experience to run for the White House.

Ramaswamy thinks he can rewrite history, but according to some prominent Indian-Americans, his "Quixotic campaign" lacks depth.

"He is a business guy and has a clean slate, but what are his promises? Does he care about medical care for the elderly? What are his plans for infrastructure spending? He doesn't have fixed positions and has not articulated his policies yet," the BBC reported Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Victory Fund, as saying.

Among likely GOP primary voters, Trump comes out on top in a crowded field with almost 43 per cent of the vote, while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is likely to jump into the presidential fray as soon as mid-May, lands at just under 35 per cent, according to polling firm Victory Insights.

Ramaswamy, the youngest in the race, pulls in at a distant third with about four per cent, while Haley has support of just over three per cent.

A JL Partners poll shows Haley and Ramaswamy head-to-head getting three per cent and two per cent of GOP primary votes, while the Harvard-Harris poll gives four per cent to Haley, and a mere two per cent to Ramaswamy.

Meanwhile, Indian-American Republicans are speculating a "three-way race between Trump, DeSantis and Haley", and prefer to wait instead of forging early alliances, considering Trump's legal battles, according to BBC.

Even if Haley or Ramaswamy manage to edge past these polls, which is highly unlikely according to political pundits, Indian-Americans -- as observed previously -- are more likely to vote for the Democrats.

A survey by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that 72 per cent of Indian-Americans voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 elections.

According to Wall Street Journal columnist Sadanand Dhume, the odds that either Haley or Ramaswamy will win the nomination "appear vanishingly small".

"Nonetheless, their candidacies puncture the corrosive myth that America is a racist nation constantly threatened by the phantom of white supremacy," Dhume said.

(Meenakshi Iyer can be reached at meenakshi.i@ians.in)


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