ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF. —
When it comes to deciding who should be the next U.S. president, many people in the politically active community of Vietnamese-Americans say they will not be voting for the candidate they like the best, but rather for the candidate they dislike the least.
“Between the two devils, I choose the lesser one. That’s Donald Trump,” said Leslie Le.
Le was a colonel in the South Vietnamese army before fleeing to the United States decades ago. Like most of the other Vietnamese refugees of his generation, Le has voted for Republicans in every election since he became a U.S. citizen.
This year, however, it took Le a long time to make up his mind.
'Two bad candidates'
“It is very difficult this time because [there are] two bad candidates," he said.
Of Republican Trump, Le said, "he never thinks before speaking... before speaking out what he’s thinking, and he changed policies a lot. He plans to build a wall between United States and Mexico, and he forces the Mexican government to pay for it. It’s not reality, so what he said is just his imagination.”
Le said Democrat Hillary Clinton would be more dangerous than Trump if she becomes president.
“Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, she must [have been] able to tell what information is classified, related to national security, and which information is OK to transmit over private server email. If she’s not capable to do that, she cannot be a president,” Le said.
The younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans views things differently; many of them support Democrat Clinton.
Gender bias against Clinton?
“Anyone who’s served in politics for 20, 30 years will have some skeletons in the closet," said 33-year-old Viet Tran. "The only things that’s been mentioned about her - nothing’s really that outrageous, nothing that hasn’t been done before by other politicians. I think people are just more harsh on her because she’s female.”
Twenty-six-year-old Hugh Tra supported Democrat Bernie Sanders until the Vermont senator dropped out of the race.
“I will be supporting Hillary," Tra said. "She has adopted a lot of Bernie Sanders' policies and implemented a lot of progressive platforms into her personal platform.”
Vietnamese are the sixth-largest immigrant group in the U.S. Vietnamese-Americans are known for their interest in politics, and also for a generational divide in their political preferences.
Dzung Do, managing editor of the Vietnamese-language newspaper Nguoi Viet, explained why older Vietnamese-Americans have traditionally voted Republican.
“During the Vietnam War, the Republicans were very aggressive where the Democrats were anti-war," Do said. "So that kind of thinking... They [older Vietnamese] think the Democrat was responsible for the loss of Vietnam.”
Do said there also is a gender bias among some older Vietnamese. He said he asked members of his community whether a woman could lead the United States government, and the older people he surveyed informally were emphatic: “No. No way.”
But over the past decade, even older Vietnamese-Americans seem to be switching toward support for the Democratic Party, Do said.
"People live here longer, especially old people. They got some benefits from social programs," the newspaper editor said. "When they first came here, they thought that they might do something to change Vietnam. Now they see the relationship between Vietnam and U.S. [is getting] warmer and warmer, so there’s no way they can do that.”
Reluctant Trump supporters
Some aging Vietnamese now have a more favorable view of Democrats, Do said, because they appreciate that party's support for government-funded social-welfare programs.
But Mike Nguyen, who fled the communist regime and does not believe in an expansive social welfare system, said he will vote Republican because he believes Republican economics work.
“I vote Republican because of the policy, not because of Trump," Nguyen said. "I would like to give [tax] money back to the people who create jobs. If you tax them too much, and you give it away, everything in the country will go down.”
Many Vietnamese who traditionally vote Republican, however, are only reluctantly supporting Trump. Le sums up why: “If you don’t vote for anybody, you indirectly vote for the bad one.”
On the other hand, Do said he expects some Vietnamese-Americans will leave their ballots for president blank on election day next month.