Donald Trump’s best Indian-American friend is a sixty-seven-year-old billionaire from Chicago named Shalabh Kumar. One recent Saturday, the candidate accepted Kumar’s invitation to speak at a fund-raiser in New Jersey, organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition, a group that Kumar founded last year, with the blessing of Newt Gingrich. In 2013, Kumar took American congressmen to India to meet Narendra Modi (now the Prime Minister), a Hindu nationalist, who, at the time, had been banned from the United States, owing to allegations that he’d played a role in the killing of hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat. Kumar donated almost a million dollars to Trump’s campaign, after the two bonded over Modi’s leadership and the threat of Islamic terrorism.
“A lot of people think that Trump is somewhat of a racist,” Kumar said. “His partnership with the Republican Hindu Coalition will set that aside.”
“I’m a fan of Mr. Trump,” said Siddharth Thakkar, who moved from Gujarat to New Jersey in 1987 and now runs a Red Mango. “And also Malaika”—Malaika Arora, the Indian supermodel-actress, who was the evening’s headliner. “They’re both good-looking.” Trump, he said, would bring “law and order” and “fix the inner cities.”
Gary Weightman, a New Jersey native who wore an anti-Hillary T-shirt that read “Liar Liar,” was thrilled to be seeing Trump in the flesh. “This is the third-biggest moment of my life,” he said. The first two were marrying his wife and visiting Israel (“Even though I’m Christian”).
Raj Shah, who works in pharmaceuticals, once supported Bill Clinton but became disillusioned by American foreign policy. “I want the C.I.A. to stop funding terrorist groups in Pakistan,” he said.
Inside the convention center, Trump campaign signs promised Hindu Americans a bright future: “Trump Against Terror”; “Trump Great for India”; “Trump for Faster Green Cards.”
In a V.I.P. area, Kumar, flanked by Indian celebrities, began a press briefing. He played an R.H.C. promotional video: clips of Modi, images of Kumar’s mansion in Bangalore, and scenes from his son Vikram’s lavish wedding, in New Zealand, to Miss India 2007, who sat nearby in a sparkly gown. Kumar opened the floor to questions, warning that he would address only those that were about the fund-raiser.
“What’s your opinion on Donald Trump?” a journalist asked.
“Only event-related questions!” a handler yelled from the sidelines.
Kumar said, “This is not about politics!”
“Malaika!” one undeterred reporter shouted. “How do you feel about meeting a U.S. Presidential candidate?”
Arora, wearing a skintight dress and jewels, looked uncomfortable. Kumar ended the press conference.
Back in the main hall, a Michael Jackson impersonator was onstage, doing a bhangra dance routine with a heavyset Sikh man. Then six dancers dressed as soldiers appeared, brandishing toy light sabres in a fight against “terrorists” who had taken “hostages” (Indian women in black minidresses). The terrorists foiled, the performers stood, hands on their hearts, before an American flag, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
Al Pniewski, a truck driver from Hazlet, New Jersey, waved his camouflage Trump hat in the air. “I’ve never been to a Hindu party before!” he said. He had learned about the event on Facebook. “Trump is a unifier, do you understand?” Referring to Hindu Americans, he added, “They’re smart people. They’re small-business owners; they assimilate with the culture. Obama and Hillary want to bring in radicals!”
Kumar reappeared and addressed the crowd: “Who truly represents you in Washington? Is it someone who celebrates Diwali one day and plans to give F-16s to Pakistan the next?” (“Boo, Pakistan!” came from the back.) “Or someone who wants to declare Pakistan a terrorist state?” (Loud cheers.) “The next century must be the Indo-American century!”
Finally, Trump entered, waving, from behind a curtain. The crowd rushed forward, cheering. The candidate spoke for almost fifteen minutes, conflating two terrorist attacks in India, declaring that the U.S. will build a wall and that Mexico will pay for it, promising to end trade deals with China, and also to have better trade deals with China, Mexico, and India. He ended his speech, and shook hands with Kumar before returning to the mike. “We love the Hindus! We love India!” he said, pointing an index finger at the audience.
In the foyer, guests posed for photos in front of two giant posters. On one, Trump’s torso rose out of a red-white-and-blue lotus. On the other, a horned Hillary Clinton pointed menacingly at a frightened Modi while masked terrorists marched in front of flames.
In the main room, a female v.j. was addressing the crowd. “Do we all want peace?” she asked. “Can’t hear you!” Music blared, and Arora finally took the stage.