NEW YORK (JTA) — Everyone said their guy was going to lose. Three-quarters of their fellow American Jews voted for the other candidate. But now, Jewish Trump voters are triumphant.
“I was elated,” said Jeff Bookman, 65, a jewelry seller from the heavily Jewish Cleveland suburb of Beachwood.
Less than a month ago, Bookman told JTA that “I wouldn’t even say [Trump]’s my 17th choice” among Republicans — though he preferred the Republican candidate to Hillary Clinton. Now, like some other Jewish Trump voters, he’s optimistic.
“I was so excited about the prospect of a Republican House, Senate and president with the opportunity, for the first time in memory, to implement conservative ideas,” he said. “For the free market to operate on its own will cure a lot of the ills of the economy, and a head-on confrontation with Islamic terror was essential for Israel as well as the U.S.”
During the presidential campaign, JTA spoke with Trump voters across the country and a range of ideological conviction. Many, like Bookman, were Hillary Clinton haters who planned to vote reluctantly for Trump. Others were gung-ho on the real-estate mogul and television reality star from the beginning. Some liked his policies. Some liked his party affiliation. Some liked his personality.
Now, with the president-elect assembling his administration and the country convulsed in debate over his appointments and priorities, JTA caught up with a handful of these Jewish Trump voters featured in our reporting during the campaign.
Most feel the same way they did before, only more so: The Trump fans love him even more. Republicans are even more committed to their party. And the ambivalent ones? They’re still ambivalent.
“I woke up very relieved” the morning after Election Day, said Floridian Rebecca Raab, who told JTA in August that “I have to weigh a not-great choice and a terrible choice.” She saw Trump as the lesser of two evils.
Raab said Tuesday that she dislikes “the whole Black Lives Matter that became popular with Obama. There’s the anti-police, this is all under Obama. People don’t have jobs, the average middle-class person is paying a fortune in healthcare. There were so many things I didn’t like that Obama did. Why would I like someone who follows in his footsteps?”
Looking ahead to the Trump administration, a few voters said they’re confident Trump will be pro-Israel, but most said they were excited about traditional Republican priorities like conservative Supreme Court justices, deregulating business, setting a socially conservative agenda or passing hawkish immigration policies.
“It’s the first time in many decades where we have a president who’s so attuned to the business world,” said former Alaska Republican Party Chair Peter Goldberg, a native Brooklynite. Goldberg, who remembers hearing Psalm 23 recited over the PA system in his Brooklyn public elementary school, said he hopes Trump’s presidency heralds a return of religion to the public classroom.
“It does not say ‘separation of church and state’ anywhere” in the Constitution, he said. “I don’t think we have to ban the drawing of a Christmas tree or Santa Claus or a Hanukkiah. It’s OK if children learn about those little things about religion.”
But not all Trump voters were giddy over his upset win. Like Raab, fellow Floridian Miryam Schloss voted for Trump, but that doesn’t mean she likes him.
“I feel concerned, even though the candidate who I voted for won,” said Schloss, 30. “This is what I wanted to happen, but that doesn’t change the reality that Trump isn’t someone I respect or want my kids to grow up to be like.”
Schloss said she’s worried about the tension across the U.S. following the election feels “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for minorities that may be scared of Trump’s policy positions. While others also hoped fractures would mend, not all were as understanding as Schloss.
“The Democrats, one of their focuses was to claim the Republicans were just a bunch of hateful xenophobic racists and so on,” Goldberg said. “Yet there’s an incredible amount of hate coming from the other side.”
The Trump voters are not concerned about the white supremacists who were vocal in their support for Trump, and most approved of Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who used to run Breitbart News, a website accused of publishing anti-Semitic, racist and misogynist articles.
A range of Jewish groups have condemned Bannon for promoting hate, and two have endorsed him for the site’s pro-Israel views. But noting Bannon’s and Breitbart’s Jewish employees and pro-Israel bent, Bookman called him a “philo-Semite.”
“The Jews who tend to lean toward Hilary, these are people who have liberalism as their religion instead of Judaism,” said Goldberg. “On average, if you go into the religious Jewish community, they’re more likely to be Republican. If you talk to the average person who goes to synagogue [only] on the High Holidays, they’re more likely to vote for Clinton.”
Heshy Friedman, a pro-Trump activist in the haredi Orthodox Brooklyn enclave of Borough Park, said Trump’s advisers show he’ll be friendly to Jewish interests. An overwhelming majority of Borough Park voters chose Trump.
“The people he’s surrounded with, either it’s his Orthodox son-in-law, [whom] he listens to, or his Orthodox lawyer,” Friedman said, referring to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, and Jason Greenblatt, the chief legal officer at The Trump Organization and Trump’s Israel adviser. “Never was there ever a pro-Israel or pro-Jewish administration as we’re having today.”
Jeff Sakwa, co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, told JTA at the Republican National Convention in July that Trump’s hiring of diverse employees shows he’s not racist. Now that Republicans control Congress, the Senate and the White House — and will likely soon have a Supreme Court majority — Sakwa says the party can prove it’s committed to advancing minorities.
“As a party, we welcome diversity and work really hard trying to figure out why our policies are better, work better for them and their families,” Sakwa said. “Anybody who hates Jews and Muslims is not a part of our party. I can’t stop them from voting for us, but it’s certainly not anything I advocate for, and I don’t think Donald Trump does either.”