ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF. —
One of the most politically active Asian-American communities says many of its members will not vote if real estate mogul Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president.
Vietnamese-Americans are one of the most politically engaged, and many of them who arrived in the U.S. as refugees have been strong supporters of the Republican party.
”We used to see [the] Republican party in the United States as the party that is very anti-communist because of the foreign policy,” said Le Khac Ly, who was a colonel in the South Vietnamese armed forces.
Le now lives in Orange County, Calif., where he is part of the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.
Ever since Le Khac Ly became a U.S. citizen, he says he voted for a Republican in every election, however, he says, this election will be different.
The fall of Saigon to the communists prompted Le and his family to flee Vietnam. They resettled in the U.S. Ever since Le became a U.S. citizen, he voted for a Republican in every election.
This presidential election however, he says, is different.
Trump's nomination would be 'terrible'
“This is unique. [It is] the first time I [have] witnessed … and oh … it’s terrible. I don’t know how to describe it. It is something I can’t imagine is happening,” Le said.
Le said he is disappointed and worried about the future of the U.S. if Trump wins the White House bid.
“If he becomes president, the first thing I can see is the United States are losing more friends in the world. Instead, the United States will have more enemies,” Le said.
“If Donald Trump becomes the candidate for U.S. president and gets elected to the White House, I think it’s going to impact the United States' standing negatively in the world on an international stage,” said Hugh Tra who is a part of the younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans who are affiliated with the Democratic Party.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the downtown Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo., March 12, 2016.
“The Republican side has been looking like a circus. I think it’s been an entertainment show, a reality TV show, and the millennials I think don’t appreciate because we have real issues impacting us," Tra said.
He said regardless of party affiliation, the Vietnamese community is turned off by Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, proposing to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and calling undocumented immigrants from Mexico criminals and rapists.
”We’re immigrants. I’m an immigrant. My family’s refugees and the tone and the rhetoric that’s coming out of the Donald Trump camp make it difficult for even conservatives in the Vietnamese community to want to be a part of this election cycle and be engaged,” Tra said.
Le said some Vietnamese-Americans who have loyally voted for a Republican will not vote at all if Trump becomes the Republican nominee. As for Le, he said he will leave his ballot blank.
Support for Trump
But half a world away in Vietnam, the take on Trump is very different.
Here, an unexpected Southeast Asian fanbase reckons Trump's anti-China rhetoric might somehow stop "Beijing expansionism" in the South China Sea, where Vietnam has overlapping territorial claims with the world's most populous nation.
Hugh Tra who is a part of the younger generation of Vietnamese Americans who are affiliated with the Democratic Party.
Listener Nguyen Dinh Thieu told VOA’s Vietnamese Service he hopes the billionaire would take military and economic measures to weaken China, "calm the disputed waters" and "bring back islands" allegedly taken from Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese nationals are interested in the U.S. foreign policy position regarding the disputed, resource-rich sea lanes, said Nguyen Manh Hung, a George Mason University professor of international affairs.
“The majority of Vietnamese are frustrated with China’s aggressive moves, so it is not surprising to see they support a U.S. presidential candidate who takes a harsh and intolerant stance against China,” said Hung, an expert on U.S.-Vietnamese relations.
Hanoi hasn't commented on Trump’s vows to “bring jobs back” from Asian nations, including Vietnam, but the state-controlled Thanh Nien daily newspaper called his comments “shocking.”