The contrasting fate of GOP’s two Indian-American presidential candidates | World News - Hindustan Times
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The contrasting fate of GOP’s two Indian-American presidential candidates

By, Washington
Jan 17, 2024 09:21 AM IST

Nikki Haley remains in the race as the non-Trump candidate and banks on his failure; Ramaswamy’s rides on Donald Trump bandwagon

The results of the Republican primary battle in Iowa on Monday kept one Indian-American candidate, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, in the race for the party’s nomination and led to the exit of the other candidate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on as fellow candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy passes by, during a break at the fourth Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S. December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (REUTERS)
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley looks on as fellow candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy passes by, during a break at the fourth Republican candidates' U.S. presidential debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S. December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (REUTERS)

With 19% of the votes, Haley, 51, finished third in the race behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (21%) in a contest where former president Donald Trump appears to have locked in the nomination already, taking over half the votes (51%) in the first primary. Ramaswamy dropped out of the race after he garnered a dismal 7.7% of the votes.

Haley’s political future now appears to rest either on the consolidation of the anti-Trump and non-Trump votes or the collapse of Trump’s candidacy itself. In contrast, Ramaswamy’s political future rests on Trump’s success after a campaign that broadly endorsed the former president’s political positions. On Monday, he formally endorsed Trump after exiting the race.

For Haley, the aim, as distant as it may seem at the moment, remains the White House. Ramaswamy has several other options: either a top spot in the Trump administration, a chance to be his running mate (vice-president), or a seat in the US Senate. The contrasting political fortunes, platforms and ambitions of the two candidates are a reflection of their radically different backgrounds.

Haley’s rise and challenge

Haley is now the top Indian-American politician within the Republican Party (GOP). She is a Christian, who also acknowledges her Indian roots. Haley has served as the governor of South Carolina, a conservative southern state where she decided to remove from government grounds in 2015 the Confederate flag — a symbol of slavery — after an attack on a Black church in the city of Charleston. Under Trump, she served as the American ambassador to the United Nations, a cabinet level position in the administration.

She has adopted political positions which echo that of the older Republican establishment, including a call for tax cuts, debt reduction, and responsible federal spending; a commitment to American global leadership and continued support for both Ukraine and Israel; a nuanced opposition to abortion in recognition of how the issue has alienated voters; and a commitment to tackling illegal immigration, but not in the extreme ways that Trump has suggested.

For those used to the older, centre-Right orientation Republican Party, Haley’s positions make her sound like the only adult in the Republican field. Her campaign is premised on drawing in independent voters, and even Democrats who may be disillusioned with Biden, but dislike Trump — a fact that has led Democrats to keep a watchful eye on her prospects.

The problem for Haley however is that the non-Trump segment remains a minority within the GOP, and because she is seen as a part of the older Republican establishment, she finds it more challenging to win over the new Republican white working-class base. Her identity as a woman of colour probably doesn’t help either. She is expected do better next week in New Hampshire, where early polls showed her closing the gap with Trump, and then her home state of South Carolina next month. But none of this makes much of a difference, given the overwhelming Trump lead in the primaries. Her opposition to Trump’s politics and position, which is her campaign USP, and Trump’s demand for complete loyalty, also make it unlikely that he will opt for her as vice-president, even though it might boost the winnability of the Republican ticket.

Ramaswamy’s imprint

By contrast, the man who made being a Trumpist his campaign USP doesn’t have these struggles anymore.

The 38-year old entrepreneur-turned-politician, Ramaswamy, was almost unknown in the American public sphere till last year. He ran a largely self-funded campaign and banked on being a glib talker, attaining, in the process, a high degree of visibility. Ramaswamy owned his Hindu roots, and in a bid to appeal to the Republican white Christian base, claimed that Hindu values were aligned with Christian-Judeo values.

Ramaswamy also adopted a campaign platform that echoed that of Trump and the new Republican Party, which Joe Biden refers to as the “Maga Republicans”, an allusion to the Make America Great Again slogan of the Trump campaign. He called himself the America first candidate. His ten-point campaign manifesto — which included precepts like God is real, there are two genders, and human flourishing requires fossil fuels — didn’t work to boost his numbers, but turned him into prominent Republican political figure, letting him seamlessly switch to Trump on Monday.

Irrespective of the political fate that awaits Haley and Ramaswamy, the participation of two powerful Indian-American figures in the 2024 Republican race shows the political rise of the community, the diversity within the community even when they are a part of the same party, and the challenges they face in navigating a largely white Christian conservative political field.

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