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Indian Americans are finding their political voice

Vivek Ramaswamy has overtaken Ron DeSantis in several GOP presidential polls. Credit: Getty

August 14, 2023 - 6:15pm

In a year of depressingly predictable election trends, the rise of biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy represents something of a breakthrough. In some polls for the Republican presidential nomination, the 38-year-old Ohio native now occupies second place behind Donald Trump, overtaking the beleaguered Ron DeSantis.

Ramaswamy’s surprising success reflects the freshness of his message, focusing on issues like corporate wokeism and the deconstruction of the federal bureaucracy, while benefitting from the faltering campaign of DeSantis.

Yet the Harvard-educated businessman’s rise also points to a broader trend. Ramaswamy reflects the remarkable, and largely unnoticed, ascendancy of the Indian American community not only in politics but also in technology, business, and education. The estimated four million or so Indian Americans — roughly triple the population of British Indians — represent arguably America’s most successful new ethnic group, with the highest rates of entrepreneurship and education levels. 

Early Indian immigrants came to America as servants or agricultural workers. But more recently, they are heavily drawn from trading castes, notably Gujarati as well as elite graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology. Indian executives are at the helm of Microsoft, Alphabet, IBM, Vimeo, and YouTube.

Like the tech world in general, Indians are predominantly Left-leaning, with more than two-thirds voting Democrat. They concentrate in deep-blue regions like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, although there is a growing continent in both Dallas and Houston. But Indians are not necessarily culturally liberal, and frequently maintain traditional values. They tend, according to a 2020 Carnegie Endowment study, to be more religious, more married and very attached to their ethnic identity. 

This perhaps explains why a number of Indian American politicians are running as Republicans. In addition to Ramaswamy, there is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is also running for President, as well as Louisiana’s former governor, Bobby Jindal. 

Still, the real political power in the Indian community lies with the Left. All five Indian US Congress members are Democrats, including the Leftist “Squad” member Pramila Jayapal of Seattle. Many represent what Thomas Piketty aptly calls “the Brahmin Left”, a group of well-educated professionals who see themselves as qualified to direct the country’s future. 

This group includes critical figures such as Silicon Valley’s Congressman Ro Khanna, former co-chairman of Bernie Sanders’s  presidential campaign. Khanna, first elected in 2017, also served as deputy assistant secretary in Barack Obama’s Commerce Department, and has been a strong advocate of both green policies and reshoring manufacturing to the US. He also recently proved himself a mensch in defending Ramaswamy from an ill-considered attack from an Oklahoma pastor who warned against voting for a Hindu. Both Khanna and Ramaswamy were raised in, and practice, this ancient faith. In contrast, Haley is a Christian, which annoys some South Indian activists.

Another key Indian political player is behind-the-scenes power broker Saikat Chakrabarti, a Harvard-trained software engineer,  widely acknowledged as the éminence grise behind the ubiquitous progressive headliner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He is an unreconstructed radical who has admitted that the proposed Green New Deal was not merely an environmental gambit, but an effort to restructure the American economy away from the current capitalist system. 

So even if Ramaswamy and Haley fade, as is likely, Indian influence in both parties, as well as in business and the arts, can be expected to grow in the years ahead. Well-educated and increasingly affluent, it is far from fanciful that in the near future an Indian will ascend the heights of American politics, as is already the case in the UK. Whether they will, like their British counterparts, also shift substantially to the Right remains an open question. 


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

So even if Ramaswamy and Haley fade, as is likely,…
Sadly, I suspect Mr. Kotkin’s prediction about Ramaswamy’s presidential run is correct.
I’m impressed by Ramaswamy. He correctly identifies many of the problems facing the US and proposes, in many cases, workable, reasonable solutions. Despite being a political newcomer, I’m confident if he was elected he’d surround himself with experienced political operators and would implement many of the changes Trump tried but failed to implement.
I’m particularly impressed by the way Ramaswamy handles Trump. He doesn’t directly criticize him and presents himself as the heir to Trump’s legacy. He also publicly stated that, unless new evidence comes to light of substantive wrongdoing by Trump, he will pardon Trump if he’s elected president (although the presidential pardon power is limited and doesn’t apply, for example, to state lawsuits). In effect, he’s given Trump a partial get-out-of-jail card if Trump decides his legal troubles are insurmountable. I assume the quid pro quo is Trump would throw his support behind Ramaswamy. Of course, the only way for this strategy to work is if Trump drops out of the running for Republican nominee which seems unlikely because he holds such a commanding lead at this point.
Ramaswamy is a very smart guy and I’d love to know how he thinks he can beat Trump to the Republican nomination. I wonder why he didn’t wait four years and run in 2028 when, I’m reasonably confident, Trump will no longer be a contender.

Last edited 11 months ago by J Bryant
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

He is smart as a whip. I like him. Maybe he is just practicing and getting exposure for 2028!

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Maybe he’s pitching for the vice-presidency?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

He is smart as a whip. I like him. Maybe he is just practicing and getting exposure for 2028!

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
11 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Maybe he’s pitching for the vice-presidency?

J Bryant
J Bryant
11 months ago

So even if Ramaswamy and Haley fade, as is likely,…
Sadly, I suspect Mr. Kotkin’s prediction about Ramaswamy’s presidential run is correct.
I’m impressed by Ramaswamy. He correctly identifies many of the problems facing the US and proposes, in many cases, workable, reasonable solutions. Despite being a political newcomer, I’m confident if he was elected he’d surround himself with experienced political operators and would implement many of the changes Trump tried but failed to implement.
I’m particularly impressed by the way Ramaswamy handles Trump. He doesn’t directly criticize him and presents himself as the heir to Trump’s legacy. He also publicly stated that, unless new evidence comes to light of substantive wrongdoing by Trump, he will pardon Trump if he’s elected president (although the presidential pardon power is limited and doesn’t apply, for example, to state lawsuits). In effect, he’s given Trump a partial get-out-of-jail card if Trump decides his legal troubles are insurmountable. I assume the quid pro quo is Trump would throw his support behind Ramaswamy. Of course, the only way for this strategy to work is if Trump drops out of the running for Republican nominee which seems unlikely because he holds such a commanding lead at this point.
Ramaswamy is a very smart guy and I’d love to know how he thinks he can beat Trump to the Republican nomination. I wonder why he didn’t wait four years and run in 2028 when, I’m reasonably confident, Trump will no longer be a contender.

Last edited 11 months ago by J Bryant
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago

I think the Indian diaspora are actually fairly consistent from the UK to the US. It’s the left/right spectrum that provides the contrast. The UK is so far left of the US politically that an establishment Democrat here would almost certainly be a Tory over there.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
11 months ago

I think the Indian diaspora are actually fairly consistent from the UK to the US. It’s the left/right spectrum that provides the contrast. The UK is so far left of the US politically that an establishment Democrat here would almost certainly be a Tory over there.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
11 months ago

Haley’s Presidential ambitions may fade, but she is highly tipped as a VP candidate (in fact many people see her campaign as in reality being a VP pitch without serious designs on the top slot). As for Ramaswamy, he is a great speaker and his enthusiasm transmits well. Would he get the nod? He basically promises to be a competent version of Trump: a business man who would delegate the various political roles to effective people with experience who share his vision and beliefs.
He has to get around not just Trump and DeSantis too. Trump has a large minority of the Republican primary voters willing to follow him off a cliff (and he has a decent section of the Democrat machine willing to aide him by keeping him in the news). DeSantis’s campaign may be struggling, but he has actual real world experience of getting conservative policies through his legislature in Florida, a formerly purple state now crimson red. DeSantis is taking flak from the left, from Trump, from the other primary candidates who want to supplant him and second to Trump. It may still be the case that once primary voting starts, people turn to competency and results.
Ramaswamy has tremendous charm and his combination of positivity and urgency with the ability to not only highlight problem areas in society but also state a pathway out of problems, is effective. But is he more Andrew Yang than Donald Trump? We’ll see.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
11 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

For me, DeSantis first choice, then Ramaswamy.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
11 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

For me, DeSantis first choice, then Ramaswamy.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
11 months ago

Haley’s Presidential ambitions may fade, but she is highly tipped as a VP candidate (in fact many people see her campaign as in reality being a VP pitch without serious designs on the top slot). As for Ramaswamy, he is a great speaker and his enthusiasm transmits well. Would he get the nod? He basically promises to be a competent version of Trump: a business man who would delegate the various political roles to effective people with experience who share his vision and beliefs.
He has to get around not just Trump and DeSantis too. Trump has a large minority of the Republican primary voters willing to follow him off a cliff (and he has a decent section of the Democrat machine willing to aide him by keeping him in the news). DeSantis’s campaign may be struggling, but he has actual real world experience of getting conservative policies through his legislature in Florida, a formerly purple state now crimson red. DeSantis is taking flak from the left, from Trump, from the other primary candidates who want to supplant him and second to Trump. It may still be the case that once primary voting starts, people turn to competency and results.
Ramaswamy has tremendous charm and his combination of positivity and urgency with the ability to not only highlight problem areas in society but also state a pathway out of problems, is effective. But is he more Andrew Yang than Donald Trump? We’ll see.