Republicans Try to Win Back Asian Americans, if White Bankers in Hong Kong Count

By Lee Fang

All photos by Greg GibsonAsian Republican Coalition co-chairmen Tom Britt and John Ying are joined at their launch event by US Senator Orrin Hatch (right). 

On a sunny afternoon in early May, a number of Republican insiders, lobbyists, and politicians huddled at The Newseum in Washington, DC to nibble on hors d'oeuvres and celebrate the launch of a new group designed to win back the hearts and minds of Asian American voters.

Many have talked about the "demographic time bomb" threatening the Republican Party as America increasingly becomes less white and more multiracial. That problem is particularly acute with Asian Americans, the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, who have trended dramatically toward the Democratic Party in the last 20 years.

While small overtures have been made of late, the Asian Republican Coalition (ARC) is the new group unveiled this past month that hopes to permanently reverse the Democratic trend among Asian voters.

How do they plan on doing it? VICE spoke to Thomas Britt, the vice chairman of ARC and a former Asia Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Britt told us that Republican values of faith, family, education, and entrepreneurship reflect the interests of Asian American families. "I think the Republican policies with respect to some of those core values are very consistent with what Asian Americans believe," says Britt, who talked to us over the phone while on a business trip to Beijing.

Notably, both of ARC's chairmen are based primarily in Asia. John Ying, the chairman of the group, is Managing Director of Peak Capital, a Hong Kong-based firm that specializes in business deals in China.

But what are ARC's connections to the Asian American community in the United States?

“We have a very broad definition of what constitutes the Asian American community," says Britt, who is white. "The Asian Republican Coalition is open to all Americans, including Asian Americans and those of us like me who are not ethnically Asian but have spent twenty years living in Hong Kong.”

Ying, who was not available for an interview with VICE, made similar remarks to Fox News, telling the news outlet that ARC seeks to expand the definition of Asian American to include those who might be married to an Asian or doing business in Asian markets. “We want to broaden the footprint beyond bloodlines,” Ying said.

Indeed, pictures posted from ARC's launch party show that ARC's team is currently populated by a staff, which includes fundraisers from the firm Sentinel Strategic Advisors, that is virtually all white.

Members of the Asian Republican Coalition team pose at the launch party in Washington, DC

The event was attended by about a dozen Republican lawmakers, including Utah US Senator Orrin Hatch and Oklahoma US Senator Jim Inhofe. "Although I am not Asian American I represent a large part of what ARC represents," Britt said at the unveiling, according to the website Hollywood on the Potomac. The event was also attended by Ed Feulner, the former president of the Heritage Foundation, as well as Brian Johnson, a tax lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute.

ARC and the Republican Party have their work cut out for them. In the 1992 presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush picked up 55 percent from Asian Americans. But those numbers have been slipping precipitously. In 2008, Obama garnered 62 percent of the Asian American vote. That number jumped to 73 percent in the last presidential election, according to exit polls.

The same dynamic has occurred down ballot. Last year, Asian Americans broke for Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli by 63 to 34 percent in Virginia's gubernatorial race. Polls show Cuccinelli's support for English-only policies and hostility towards immigration reform were a major factor for Asian American voters.

Still, Britt told VICE that the Republican Party does not need to support comprehensive immigration reform to convince Asian American voters to join their team. "I don't believe the Asian American community is a single issue group," he told me bluntly. Britt believes that the GOP has taken Asian American votes for granted, and that a more focused outreach strategy will boost the party. ARC, he notes, intends to get involved in congressional elections this year. The group a 501(c)4 non-profit, meaning it does not have to disclose its donors but can solicit unlimited individual and corporate donations. Registration records show the group was incorporated in Delaware.

So far, ARC has been endorsed by many heavy-hitters in the party. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul are among the GOP leaders who have written statements of support.

But ARC isn't the only effort by Republicans to curry favor with Asian Americans. Last year, the Republican National Committee hired two Asian Americans to boost its community outreach apparatus, Jason Chung and Stephen Fong. In December, several House Republicans appeared in a fairly bland video to mark the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Democrats, on the other hand, aren't so terribly worried.

"Is this a joke?" asks Frank Chi, a Democratic media consultant, when told about ARC's broad definition of Asian American. "If not, then this is a fundamental misreading of politics in a multicultural America."

Lee Fang, a San Francisco–based journalist, is an Investigative Fellow at The Nation Institute and co-founder of Republic Report.

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