On Wednesday, Jewish Republicans took a victory lap.
Donald Trump won the presidency. A second Jewish Republican was elected to the House of Representatives. And, most of all, the expected Trump blowout among Jewish voters just didn’t happen.
“The bottom line is that the dire predictions… that Donald Trump was going to get the lowest share ever in history of the Jewish vote never materialized,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, on a Nov. 9 conference call.
Exit polls show that 71% of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton. That’s the second-worst result among Jews for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, and just a point above the average share of the Jewish vote received by Democrats in presidential races since 1972.
Jewish Trump supporters contacted by the Forward expressed joy at the results, and little anxiety over the anti-Semitic rhetoric that surrounded the Trump campaign.
“I am feeling excited, elated and relieved,” said Simone Gold, 45, of Beverly Hills, California. “There’s been an oppressive weight on us from the Clinton-Obama years, and they are coming to an end.”
For Bruce Abramson, 52, a New York City attorney, the election results were a relief. “The Obama years have been excruciating,” he said. “They have been terrible as an American. They have been frightening as a Jew.”
Gold said that the anti-Semitic elements among Trump’s supporters didn’t bother her. “It is of no concern,” she said. “Not for one moment has Trump done any actions that would every indicate that he allies himself with what the [Ku Klux Klan] believes.”
Abramson acknowledged that the rise of the so-called “alt-right” is disturbing. But he said that he felt that while a portion of the racist movement was truly “deplorable,” others were “essentially performance artists.”
“I’m not concerned about dogwhistles that only leftists can hear,” Abramson said.
The Jewish Trump supporters who spoke with the Forward said that they were eager for changes to American foreign policy that would favor Israel, and for Supreme Court nominees who would defend “religious freedoms.” They said they were angry over the Iran nuclear deal, and happy to avoid a Clinton presidency.
“Clinton wanted to sell the country to the highest bidder so she could have $200 million in the bank,” said Eugene Greenstein, 70, a retired engineer from Detroit, Michigan.
Rabbi Pini Dunner, the spiritual leader of an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills, said he was looking forward to a new U.S. approach in the Middle East. The election “will certainly have struck fear into Islamic radicals, and radical governments in the Middle East who know that he is not frightened to take action if it’s the better interest of the United States and of…Israel.”
Republican activists said that they hoped that the relatively strong result for Trump among Jews would make a path for more Jews to remain open to Republican candidates. “If they can see past the ‘spooky Republicans out to get you…’ rhetoric that’s the mainstay of Democrats’ appeal to Jews over the last several decades, and open themselves up to see the way Donald Trump deals with the state of Israel, with religious liberties, I actually believe they will be pleasantly surprised,” said Jeff Ballabon, an Orthodox political operative who supported Trump.
The RJC’s Brooks, too, dismissed concerns about anti-Semitism in Trump’s orbit. “I know that there has been much made about dogwhistles and secret messages and subtle antisemitism throughout the course of this campaign,” Brooks said. “There’s also been overt anti-Semitism by crazy supporters. But those kind of crazy supporters and stuff are not endemic just to Donald Trump. Every candidate typically has supporters who say things and do things that are outside of the pale.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Solomon.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.