Known as one of the power players in President Trump’s administration, Indian-American Raj Shah, 33, was appointed as the Principal Deputy Press Secretary in September 2017. Shah joined the team as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications for Research in January 2017. Clearly, Shah holds a coveted position in this controversial White House yet he is rarely in the focus.
His father Suresh Shah, an engineer, moved to the United States from Mumbai in the early 70’s to study. After getting married to a dentist from Kutch, Gujarat, the two moved back to India. However, they returned to the U.S. in the late 70’s, settling in Chicago and then Connecticut, which is where Shah was born.
He attended the Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk where he earned the prestigious honor of being an Ettinger Scholar, a title reserved for top graduates. In high school, he volunteered for Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT). Obviously, his love for politics began at an early age. His parents, who still live in Norwalk, hoped his son would take the traditional route of being a doctor, lawyer or engineer. However, they knew he always loved working with political leaders.
As the son of Indian immigrants, Shah was always confused about which side of American policies he belonged to. Most of his family members and friends are Democrats. It was during his many internships in Washington D.C. that he realized he didn’t agree with their stances, especially on polarizing issues like how to handle the economy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more.
“Trump’s Right. End the Diversity Visa Lottery” https://t.co/SrN63eLps9
— Raj Shah (@RajShah45) November 3, 2020
In 2004, he cast his first vote for George W. Bush. The following year, he interned with the White House and the year after, he graduated from Cornell University with a bachelors degree in Government. Since then, he built his career around research, working as the Director of Vetting for the Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. Following this, he worked as a Research Analyst for the Republican National Committee limbing the ranks to the Research Director at RNC.
was responsible for analyzing and examining opposition candidates to essentially dig up dirt on them. During the 2016 election, Shah ran the team which conducted all the research against Hilary Clinton and was the head of all the anti-Clinton campaigning.
“[Clinton] FEMA director James Lee Witt told me he’d give the Trump administration an A-plus for how it’s responding …” (1/2)
— Raj Shah (@RajShah45) October 16, 2020
Shah took his skills a notch further and co-founded a right-leaning political organization called America Rising in 2013 along with Matt Rhoades, the campaign manager for 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It’s a Political Action Committee or PAC created “for the sole purpose of exposing the truth about Democrats through video tracking, research, and strategic communication.” They were responsible for closely scrutinizing Clinton long before she even announced her candidacy.
Shah also spearheaded opposition research for America Rising and the RNC. “We had the time and resources to dig through it all and kind of pick and choose how we wanted to go about the general election. I think it played to our benefit,” he told his hometown publication, The Hour. “When the email issue broke, we knew what buttons to push. When issues surrounding the foundation came up we knew where to look. We filed over 550 FOI requests and we sued the government half a dozen times to release records.”
Shah holds the position of Principal Deputy Press Secretary, which was earlier held by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is currently the Press Secretary for Trump. Shah continues to remain the Deputy Assistant to the President. In fact, he was one of the first staffers to set up shop in the White House two hours after Trump’s inauguration, helping establish the communications for the press pool from day one. While the Trump administration has a few South Asian-Americans in key posts including Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Ajit Pai, the chairman of FCC, Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and more.
The paradoxical part in all of this is that Indian-Americans have long opposed almost all of the policies Trump is trying to pass, despite his attempt to woo them at a large-scale event in New Jersey last year. Whether it’s his stance on immigration, H1-B work visas, DACA, and even gun violence, Net Neutrality, the media. It’s a puzzling feeling to see and be proud of fellow members of the diaspora like Shah, Haley, Pai, rising in the U.S. government while trying to understand the motivation behind their actions.