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In Florida, ‘Proud Boys stand by’ doesn’t faze Jews for Trump

In large measure, Jewish Republicans in Florida are standing by their man.

They just wish he’d have let the other guy talk a little more.

“I love President Trump; he just needs to keep his mouth shut and stop talking,” said Perri Cohen, president of the Conservative Club of Wynmoor, a senior community in Broward County. “Let other people make fools of themselves.”

As the 90-minute debate played out across America on Tuesday night, Trump supporters in Florida applauded his performance against former Vice President Joe Biden, with the one caveat, that if he not interjected thoughts so often and interrupted the flow as much as he did, Biden would have revealed himself as the weaker candidate they believe he is.

“Letting him talk more would have shown Biden’s disability,” said Jack Mendelson, a founder of the club and past president, echoing a common perception among Republicans, that at 77, Biden has worn down mentally and physically. “It would have put his mental capacity in front. Fox (News) shows his disabilities; other channels don’t.”

Like in past elections, Florida with 29 electoral votes is a key to winning the White House. Recent polls have shown Biden leading in the state by three or four points, with one other poll showing Trump ahead by the same margin.

Reflecting that tightness, most voters are dug in, their support impregnable, even with three president debates giving the candidates a chance to change minds. The next two are planned for Oct. 15 and 22, with a vice presidential debate on the books for Oct. 7.

Several Jewish Republicans said Tuesday night’s debate was unlikely to change any minds, especially with its food fight style that left the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, unable to untangle much of the cross-talk.

“They each made their points,” Mendelson said of Biden and Trump. “But they got Chris in a real difficult position. It wasn’t really a true debate. It would have been interesting to see if Trump hadn’t interrupted so much, Biden would have stuck his foot in his mouth more. As usual.”

Randy Fine, the lone Jewish Republican in the Florida legislature, representing a district along the mid-East Coast, said he had no idea whether the debate would sway undecided voters or change the minds of others.

Rep. Randy Fine

Rep. Randy Fine Image by Randy Fine

But in his view, Trump had the better performance, in acting more presidential — “If memory serves, I don’t recall any other candidate calling a president ‘clown’ or telling him to ‘shut up,’” — and in getting off “the line of the night, that he had done more in 47 months than Biden had done in 47 years” as a Senator and Vice President.

“I do wish he had let the Vice President speak more,” Fine said. “The Vice President would have made more mistakes.”

Alan Bergstein, founder and president of the Judeo-Christian Republican Club of Palm Beach County, said he would have been “happier if Trump would have behaved himself, but I do think he did well.” He said he was especially impressed by Trump’s “ferocity,” noting that if he treated Biden and Wallace that way, “what does he unleash against Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un?”

“He must be intolerable when he sits down with them,” he said. “I like that.”

Like others, Fine said Trump might have sharpened his views on issues that Republicans find especially objectionable, like what he meant by telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in an exchange on race relations and white supremacists.

Fine inferred that Trump meant for the group to “get out the way.” Others interpreted his words as a dog whistle to violent groups to defend him, no matter the issue. Proud Boys is a far-right militia group of white men that the FBI has identified as extremist for its participation in violent civil unrest.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that he supports their cause,” Fine said, insisting Trump has consistently repudiated white supremacists. “Quite the opposite.”

Mendelson said he thought Trump should have pushed harder, explaining, for example, what he has done in response to the Covid-19 virus, like finding sources for ventilators and protective equipment even as critics contend that Trump failed to respond fast or consistently enough to satisfy the needs across the country.

“He was left with a bad situation,” Mendelson said. “He could have mentioned how he got Ford and G.E. to build ventilators.”

Fine wanted more on Trump’s argument that unsolicited ballots sent out in 10 states and jurisdictions will undermine the legitimacy of the election. “The president is absolutely correct on this,” he said.

Whatever points made or missed, no one interviewed sensed Trump had moved the needle. If anything, his aggressive style might have hurt him with voters still uncertain of their choice.

Did he expand his base? “I don’t think so,” said Mendelson. “He missed an opportunity to do that.”

“I don’t think he turned any hardliners,” Bergstein said. “Republicans thought Trump was good. Democrats thought Biden was good. A lot of Republicans and Democrats thought Biden might crash emotionally, but he didn’t. I guess that’s a good thing for the Biden side.”

As for Cohen, “I didn’t hear anything new or anything that heartened me,” she said. “The polls will be the same.”


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