President Donald Trump has shifted one of his top Indian-American White House appointees from a communications position to one where he will be dealing more directly with the press as a second-in-command spokesperson for the administration.
Raj Shah will serve as Deputy Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Press Secretary. He formerly served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Communications Director.
In a White House staff reshuffle, President Trump made Hope Hicks, his Interim Communications Director, permanent. Trump co-opted Mercedes Schlapp, a conservative columnist and entrepreneur, as his Advisor for Strategic Communications.
Trump also bumped up another Asian-American, Steven Cheung, to the position of Special Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Response. Cheung previously served as Special Assistant to the President and Assistant Communications Director.
Shah did not respond to a query from News India Times. Shah proved his mettle at the research and communications director in the Republican National Committee before he came to the White House. At the RNC, Shah was the director of research and deputy director of communications. Best known for having developed the playbook for the GOP to defeat then Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, Shah kept up a barrage of attacks on her through the campaign. When his former boss, Rience Preibus, head of the RNC, was recruited by Trump, Shah moved with him to the White House. The latest reshuffle is a result of a somewhat tumultuous couple of months in the communications wing of the White House, with several resignations and firings.
As an RNC Research Director Shah manned an army of dirt-diggers against Democrats, big and small. In an interview with News India Times when he was at the RNC in 2016, Shah spoke about his ‘laser focus’ on Clinton’s record and the alleged email scandal that rocked the Clinton campaign.
During 2013-2014, Shah was the co-founding partner and managing director of America Rising LLC, a Republican opposition research group, where he developed the organization’s Hillary Clinton opposition research book.
Something about his tenacity and qualifications is apparent from what Priebus said about Shah when he made him director of research at RNC — “Raj will take the helm of a top-notch Research Department as we prepare to defeat Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in 2016 and to hold them accountable for their records. Raj is the expert on the subject of all things Clinton, and his expertise will be an asset to our party.”
Shah’s work with the RNC began when he was just 22-year old , pulling news clips at 5 a.m. fresh out of college after getting his Bachelor of Arts and Government degree from Cornell University.
This even though he was born and brought up in an apolitical and religious Jain family of Democrats in Connecticut. He would have followed the then traditional Indian-American career path of medicine or law, but 9/11 happened as he was graduating from High School and his focus changed completely.
“I was politically apathetic but that got me interested in geopolitical issues and domestic politics. After 9/11, I was reading everything I could get my hands on.” Add to that an internship with then Connecticut Republican Congressman Chris Shays plus a White House internship, and his career was mapped out. He admitted then that he was somewhat of a junkie and loved the world of political machinations.
What attracted him to the Republican Party when most Indian-Americans are Democrats, he says may sound like a cliche. “I believe in the principles of less government, less interference in the private sector, letting it have the opportunity to grow. I also believe in a strong military and a strong national security policy and posture.”
His mother Pramila Shah, originally from Bhujpur, Gujarat, was a dentist until she retired. His father Suresh Shah from Mumbai, got his engineering degree from Oklahoma State University, but later switched careers and became a “very successful” businessman owning a chain of retail stories. They are more into politics now and discuss issues with Shah. “When I was younger, they were Democrats and I guess I was a Democrat … But very apolitical,” until 9/11 hit home.
Growing up in the Jain faith with parents closely involved with the Connecticut Jain Society, Shah attended religious classes and his parents took him to India to visit historic temples and other places. “It’s part of my heritage that I will never forget,” Shah said.
Now at the White House, he will be directly working with current Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and in her absence, he could be officiating for the daily press briefings on national television.