The nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate may be all but a done deal. But some prominent Jewish members of New Jersey’s GOP are uncertain about whether to support the billionaire builder.
Ben Chouake, the Englewood physician who is president of NORPAC, the NJ-based nonpartisan pro-Israel political action committee, had been a backer of Trump’s key Republican rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
But after Trump forced Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the race after a decisive primary win in Indiana on May 3, Chouake told NJ Jewish News, he is not sure about supporting the presumptive candidate.
While he believes Trump “will be good on the issue of Israel because he understands the issue,” Chouake said he may be open to crossing party lines in November if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.
“I think Hillary has a record to show for her support of U.S.-Israel relations that is important to a lot of her constituents,” he said.
Chouake said he had some reservations regarding Trump’s manner. “Personally I have a hard time with his gruffness and his saying, ‘This guy’s a liar, that guy’s a liar.’ I think he needs to be a little more reserved. It bothers me.”
Asked whether that was an issue that would keep him from voting for Trump, Chouake said, “It might. I think at the end of the day, character is a very important trait in leadership. It’s not just what you say, it’s how your live your life and how you treat other people.”
Robert Yudin of Wyckoff is chair of the Republican party in Bergen County and the only Jew among the state’s 21 GOP county leaders. As a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, he said, he was disturbed by Trump’s calling Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “a loser” for being taken prisoner of war. “I was appalled,” Yudin told NJJN. “But I have said publicly I will be fully committed to the person who wins the Republican nomination.” Yudin did, however, reject an offer to be a delegate for Trump at the GOP convention, to take place July 18-21 in Cleveland.
“Probably a majority of Jewish voters, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, will vote for Hillary,” Yudin said. “I know there is a lot of resistance to Trump. Polling shows that Republicans with college degrees are not very happy with Trump, and what they’re going to do I don’t know.”
Just as he did four years ago when he formed Rabbis for Romney, Bernhard Rosenberg, who retired as religious leader of Congregation Beth-El in Edison in 2015, tried to organize Rabbis for Trump last December — because, he told NJJN, he was “very concerned about Trump’s stance — or non-stance — about Israel” and hoped to elicit from him a decisive position on Israel.
Then, Rosenberg said, he received a letter from a Trump volunteer saying “that Jews are not important with regard to the election, and it was not important that Trump have an Israeli position.”
Although “it bothered me that this was their attitude; I disagreed,” said Rosenberg, he still favored Trump’s candidacy and continued to seek other rabbis to join his effort. Rosenberg said there were “about 1,500 followers on Facebook” who had committed to supporting his Rabbis for Trump.
But he ceased the organization “because I had contacted Trump’s people umpteen times and never got a reply. So I stopped Rabbis for Trump. Then a few months ago I got a call from a major macher and I met with him and two other people at Trump Tower,” in New York, where he helped advisers draft the speech Trump delivered to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference in March.
Rosenberg continues to support the presumptive nominee because “I do believe Trump is very pro-Israel.” But he also believes “most Jews are not going to go with him. That’s why Rabbis for Trump didn’t work. There were 1,600 rabbis against me when I started Rabbis for Romney, and I predict Hillary is going to get the rabbis’ support, and Trump will get next to nothing.”
Few Jewish Republicans expressed such adamant distaste for Trump as Alan Steinberg, a Cruz backer from Highland Park who has never before given his support to a Democrat.
“I have endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president unless there is a third-party candidate reflective of conservative principles,” he said.
“There comes a point when my loyalty as an American has to subsume my party loyalty,” said Steinberg. “The party of Donald Trump and Chris Christie is not a party I feel comfortable in.”
What troubles Steinberg especially is that “Trump and his real xenophobic populism needs to be purged from the Republican Party. I think he appeals to racism, and the most despicable thing he did was to make fun of the disabled journalist from The New York Times. Any person who does that is a contemptible lowlife.
“Trump is a deplorable character,” Steinberg told NJJN. “He is a misogynist. He appeals to the worst xenophobia and nativism of any modern candidate. He also is a pathological liar. He is a vile and despicable individual who is unfit to be president.
“I am not going to swallow him. Swallowing him will make me sick.”
As director of the Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, Ben Dworkin believes “Jewish Republicans are in a tough spot. Like many other Republicans, they can’t stand Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, they, like other Republicans, have serious issues with Donald Trump.”
To Dworkin, dislike for Trump “has nothing to do with someone’s Jewish identity. It has to do with Republican identity. Partisanship is an extremely strong and pervasive part of American political identity. If a candidate emerges who doesn’t fit what you think your party’s candidate should be, it’s a real challenge.”
As he assayed the situation, Dworkin said, “The rules of politics have been thrown out in 2016. Donald Trump should not be where he is after having insulted Sen. John McCain as ‘a loser’ for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Hillary Clinton would be the most unpopular candidate for Republicans heading into the presidential campaign except for Donald Trump.
“It is a tough choice for lots of folks.”