According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, the new generation of millennials are not as enthused by the current line-up of presidential candidates. Their support for Democrats has gone down post-Obama, and for Republicans it has remained the same, says conservative political analyst Michael Barone. That is different from 2008 and even 2012 elections when President Obama got 66 percent and 60 percent of the millennial vote respectively, without which he would have probably lost. Within the same demographic (Quinnipiac’s 18-29 years), support for Hillary Clinton has dimmed to around 51 percent, while the support for leading Republicans has stayed the same from previous presidential election cycles, ranging between 31 and 35 percent, with Trump securing the lowest among the three leading contenders that include Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
A small anecdotal sampling of politically aware Indian-American millennials by News India Times, mirrored this diminished excitement about candidates in general, and downright disdain for the leader of the Republican pack Donald Trump, and a middling interest in Hillary Clinton.
The abrasive billionaire businessman and reality TV personality has railed against Mexicans depicting them as rapists and drug dealers and called for building a Great Wall of America on the southern border. He alienated many women voters with his misogynist statements. Yet, an ABC News-Washington Post poll reported July 21, that he was a front-runner among Republican candidates. A month later, Aug. 21, a Rasmussen poll showed 57 percent of likely Republican voters thought he would likely be the party nominee for president.
Trump Will Fizzle
Far from it, say the doubting Indian-American millennials. They expect more from the electorate even as they say they recognize that Trump is tapping into a vein of deep voter discontent and distrust of other candidates. Even the Republicans among those interviewed believe Trump will fizzle out.
On Sept.3, Trump took the “Loyalty Pledge” to the Republican Party promising not to run as a 3rd party candidate if he was not anointed, and continued to hold his own according to an Associated Press report Sept. 6, for which dozens of voters were interviewed over two weeks in August and September.
Yet, Republican Ohio state Assemblyman Niraj Antani, 24, the youngest elected official, believes Donald Trump does not excite the youth and appeals to an older generation of Republicans angry with President Obama and government in general.
For Antani, more attractive candidates are Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, or even former Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who he says discuss issues relevant to the young. “Young Republicans are very skeptical of Donald Trump. He is an actor,” Antani said dismissively.
Karna Adam, 20, a senior at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and a registered Democrat, takes this argument a step further. Millennials, both Democrats and Republicans want a fresh face and fresh ideas, like others in the electorate, but more so.
Obama gave them that. “The millennials on the right are still waiting for their candidate, and Trump really causes them to opt out of the system,” Adam said. “Why should I focus on political issues when I’m going to have to deal with the Trumps of the world instead of my future and my life?’” he posits as the question conservative millennials are asking themselves.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, when questioned about her approach to millennials after a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Sept. 2, warned her party men against ignoring this vote bank. “One, we have to communicate; two, we have to listen to them. This is a group that really knows what they care about. They know what their frustrations are. They want to be heard and we’ve got to do that,” Haley said. Right now, however, the Republican candidates are busy fighting The Donald and millennials are on the back burner. The Republican Party has lost its way and Donald Trump symbolizes that, says Jenifer Rajkumar, an elected Democratic Leader in Lower Manhattan who headed the Ready for Hillary Super PAC’s Millenium Council. “Trump is out of touch with everyday Americans,” and also with most of his own party, appealing to a very small group within the Republican base, she says.
Seventeen year old Parth Shukla, a high school senior who wants to become a trauma surgeon and has yet to decide if he is a Democrat or Republican, is excited about voting for the first time in 2016. Trump is not his choice, he says because “His social skills are not where they should be; He’s said to be a good businessman but has declared bankruptcy several times; and I wouldn’t trust him with our foreign relations – he would say anything, and that won’t make America look good.”
Left-leaning Mehul Bhagat, a sophomore at Emory University, Atlanta, majoring in creative writing and economics, holds views similar to Adam. “Trump presents an opportunity for the Party to clear up what they believe in. Whether they do so or not is another matter,” he says. At 19, Bhagat already runs a technology start-up linked to a non-profit, World Within Foundation, which works on issues of global development and nutrition in urban slums. When Trump first announced his candidacy, Bhagat and his friends put it down as entertainment news. He criticizes The Donald for portraying himself as a Washington outsider when he has spent years cutting inside-the-Beltway deals for his businesses. “What interests me is to what extent does the American electorate believe in him to actually vote for him,” Bhagat said.
That is an area Sudhanshu Kaushik, 20, of New York University who is majoring in international relations, international development and human rights, says he knows something about. Trump has substantial support in the Bible Belt where Kaushik grew up, he says. “I’m from Alabama. I have a lot of Republican friends (even among Indian-Americans). They are swayed by the possibility of a businessman and what he can do,” Kaushik says.
As a liberal Democrat, Kaushik, who founded two non-profits — the Equality Initiative, and Vici, a rural newsletter for Sri Lanka — says Trump is actually helping the other Republican candidates pick up their game. “They have actually stepped it up because of him.” Among his Indian-American friends at NYU, the talk veers to Rand Paul among Republican contenders but Indian-American students he has spoken to, say they can’t explain Trump’s rise. “They’ve come to the conclusion that he’s gotten so far because of his Trump name.” But they treat it as a laughing matter. “What annoys us the most is how repetitive he is. How many times can you say “Stupid” or “China” or “Wall”? College students don’t find it appealing.”
“Red Meat” Candidate
Chinmayee Balachandra, 17, just entering the millennial fold describes herself as “far left” and has some scathing criticism for Trump. She cannot “even begin” to envision him as President. “It’s because I think of him as a “red meat” candidate – all he does is pander to the right, talks about taking away the 14th Amendment, wants to just rile opinion, and be like a loudspeaker for xenophobia and racism,” she says. The 14th Amendment deals with citizenship rights and equal protection under the law. Balachandra joined University of California, Santa Barbara this September, wants to major in biopsychology and political science and follow a career with the World Health Organization specializing in healthcare law. In her group of friends which includes registered Republicans, Trump is not taken seriously, “and that’s dangerous because he’s got so big,” she notes.
Notably, her “level of tolerance” for Trump and Hillary Clinton is about the same she says, conditioned by what she says is Clinton’s “problem with transparency.”
Several of those interviewed noted that at this time in the primary cycle in 2007 and 2011, front runners did not end up being the candidate. So while nightly news clips may drum up momentary support for Trump, they don’t see him becoming the party nominee. Harsh Voruganti, 27, an attorney and director of public policy at the Hindu American Foundation, like Antani, expects Trump to “fizzle out” like others before him who took to making “outrageous” statements to gain attention like Rick Santorum in 2008 and Mike Huckabee in 2012.
Republican and Democratic millennials are surprised by Trump’s rising poll numbers, his resiliency and determination, but they don’t expect it to last. “He will slip up at some point,” says Aakash Patel, a registered Republican from Tampa, Florida, who at 30 is on the outer edge of millennial. A supporter of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Patel runs his own consulting firm and last year Gov. Rick Scott appointed him chair of the Hillsborough County Early Learning Coalition, an agency with a 24-member board and an operating budget of $72 million, according to tampabay.com.
Despite his skepticism, Aakash Patel acknowledges that Trump has effectively brought his loud and opinionated TV persona to the campaign and “Some people who are frustrated have never seen such candor,” on the campaign trail. Yet he believes the Republican Party will hew to the middle and stay the course even if some sway to Trump. “I don’t see anyone veering so far as to go from Jeb to Trump,” he says.
He harks back to when former ‘candidate’ Newt Gingrich, the once powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, excited some Republicans after a presidential debate, yet got nowhere in 2012. “So there’s a lot of time left and this is not the be-all and end-all.”
Contrary to being a fad, Trump’s rise could actually redefine the Republican Party, says Adam. If Trump fares well in the October Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, “You’ll see a real serious re-alignment of the Republican Party internally – a virtual crisis,” Adam predicts.
Hersh Patel, 24, an MBA from Temple University, Philadelphia, who voted for Obama twice but says he is leaning Republican was the sole Trump supporter among those interviewed.
“He appeals to me because the more I look at his campaign, it reminds me of what Narendra Modi (India’s Prime Minister) did in India when he was running for elections,” he said.
“Going against the establishment, getting the attention, projecting that he is not even in the mould of a politician,” Hersh Patel noted. Because Trump does not belong to any faction, he said, “The Republican Party “needs to roll its dice and he may be their only chance to appeal to the entire public.”
That’s not how Kavita Raval, 20, a junior at University of Michigan, majoring in political science and communication, sees it. She believes Trump’s views are already aligned with those of the Republican Party. But voters will realize a Trump presidency will not work, she contends. Born and brought up in the U.S., Raval describes herself as “moderate left leaning.”
Nevertheless, she and a group of friends got tickets to hear Trump in early August when he came to Saginaw, Michigan, her hometown. They wanted the experience. “And so we saw these 2,000 supporters – regular people – they liked his extreme frankness and his not sticking to political correctness,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how his media stardom is changing into a political personality,” she said.
For many Republicans if not for the millenials, this transformation has already happened with Trump beginning to mute his bombast as this went to press.
Kaushik still holds there’s little likelihood Trump will get the party nomination, but he concedes that conservatives in various pockets see him as a future leader. “My friends in Alabama want Trump’s brutal honesty, and his business acumen. And where I’m from, people think he could run the country.”