As the pandemic hit the United States, Trump began to call Covid-19 “the Chinese virus,” “the China virus” and other xenophobic terms. In the week after he first tweeted it, studies show the number of Covid-related social media posts with anti-Asian hashtags rose steeply.
In the MediaFrolic/Morning Consult poll, 71 percent of AAPI adults said the ex-president was a major or minor reason for the discrimination against their community.
Sixty-six percent of Chinese respondents listed Trump as a major reason — the highest across ethnic groups. Pacific Islanders were the least likely to blame Trump, though 55 percent still said he was a major or minor reason. Citizens and noncitizens had a 20 percentage point gap (74 percent to 54 percent, respectively) in saying Trump was a reason for discrimination.
Cliff Li, head of the National Committee of Asian American Republicans, said many Asian Republicans were initially excited by Trump’s explosion on the political scene. In 2016, Li was an adviser to the Trump campaign and noted that many conservative Chinese Americans appreciated the candidate’s “outsider” status. Plus, they were looking for a change from President Barack Obama’s policies on the economy, education and national security.
Still, under the pandemic, AAPIs grew increasingly turned off by Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-China rhetoric. In 2020, Li’s organization officially endorsed Joe Biden a week before the election.
“Especially this time last year, many people feel disoriented and feel really hurt in this. Some conservatives feel like, ‘We’re part of the team, but why did you suddenly just turn against us?’” Li, who no longer supports Trump, said. “So, you know, feeling like they were being used.”
But there’s also a confusing data point, Wong notes: Yes, AAPI adults largely blame Trump. Yet, from 2016 to 2020, there was a slight growth in his support among Asian Americans.
“It’s hard to argue he was actually punished,” Wong said. “Now, it was before the Atlanta shootings, so there could be a change in context. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, he’s not on the ballot.”
Choimorrow sees more political leaders buying into Trump’s ideology and anti-China sentiment persisting with the intense focus on the origins of Covid-19 and the Wuhan lab.
As recently as August, a GOP-led investigation claimed the virus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was covered up — a conclusion that U.S. intelligence agencies have not reached. A July report from Pew Research Center found that members of Congress, especially Republicans, are increasingly discussing China on social media, with the right using critical language in the context of the pandemic. Lawmakers set on competing with China’s tech and science gains have cast the country an “existential threat” to America and often failed to differentiate between the government and its people.
With all that, organizers are closely watching GOP outreach efforts and the candidates they’re putting up as they try to win back AAPI adults.
“We need to demonstrate enough power … so that people running for office can’t ignore us and still get elected. That’s our tall order for next year,” Choimorrow said. “By 2050, Asian Americans are going to be the largest minority group.”