Days after video surfaced of Donald Trump bragging that his celebrity allowed him to grope women, supporter Mark Levenson, an Orthodox Jew from West Orange who chairs the New Jersey-Israel Commission and is the immediate past chair of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, said his candidate’s words left him troubled and “in a tight bind.”
A day after The New York Times reported that Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks claimed they were groped by Trump, Levenson said “I can’t keep up with all the revelations.”
Yet Levenson said he still wasn’t prepared to back away from his endorsement of Trump.
“I am going to think this thing through as we proceed to the election,” he said.
Like Levenson, many Jewish supporters of Trump were repulsed by his 2005 comments, which the Republican candidate brushed off as “locker room talk.” In fact, only two of more than a dozen supporters interviewed by NJJN — after the tape went public but before the New York Times report — said they could no longer support him.
An American Jewish Committee poll released last month found that 61 percent of Jews polled were for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and just 19 percent for Trump. It found that fully 50 percent of Orthodox Jews supported Trump, compared with only 29 percent of Conservative Jews, 10 percent of Reform Jews, and 17 percent of those who identified themselves as “just Jewish.”
Interestingly, 15 percent of Orthodox Jews said they had decided they could not vote for any presidential candidate this year.
Asked how he would vote if the election were held now, Levenson said, “I don’t know.” A registered Democrat, he had decided to vote for Trump because of “the Israel issue, but I am troubled by the tape.”
A partner at the Newark law firm Sills Cummis & Gross, he said his primary concern in the election “relates to Israel and security.” Decrying President Barack Obama’s “recent attacks on Israel” for planning new settlement building on the West Bank, Levenson said he had “real trouble as to whether Hillary Clinton is going to be Obama III.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, believes there are few undecided voters left within the Jewish community, and he doubts Trump’s comments change that. Clinton voters, he said, “didn’t need the latest revelation; it only reinforces the decision they have already made.”
As for Trump, the latest disclosures could be “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” for some die-hards, but Dworkin doesn’t think so.
“Whoever was going to leave him has left him.”
Kenneth Bialkin, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he disagreed with those who believe Trump’s taped comments disqualify him from being president.
“I think he was tricked into saying things, and he was speaking during a period of time in life when most men are more sex-driven,” Bialkin said. “He’s now at a different age, and nobody should read into it — that was then and this is now.”
Trump, 70, was 59 when he made the remarks during an interview for the television program Access Hollywood.
Bialkin stressed that he has still “not decided nor given any money to either side” in the presidential race, but, he added: “My inclination at the moment is that Trump makes a lot of statements that are sensible, and I would not exclude the possibility of supporting him if he took the right positions on the right issues.”
But another board member of the RJC who asked not to be identified said he had recently had a good conversation with William Weld, the former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts who is now running for vice president on the Libertarian ticket, and is seriously considering voting for that ticket.
Another Republican turning his back on Trump is Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former Republican aide who had supported several other Republican presidential candidates during the primaries. He said he had only “reluctantly” decided to support Trump when left with no choice.
“I went with him, but it’s not tenable” after hearing Trump’s comments on the tape, he said.
“All men talk about a woman’s attributes, but at least in my circle of friends we don’t talk about grabbing women without their consent or assaulting them,” Wiesenfeld said. “This is where he irreversibly damaged himself.”
On the other hand, Wiesenfeld said, “There is a double standard in this country in which liberals can get away with that and worse, which is what Bill Clinton did.”
Wiesenfeld said he believes Hillary Clinton should have been charged with a misdemeanor — without jail time — for her misuse of secret government e-mails, and replaced on the ticket with Vice President Joe Biden, whom Wiesenfeld said he could have supported.
“I can’t tell you what I think now,” he said. “I just might write in [GOP vice presidential candidate Mike] Pence’s name for president.”
Sid Dinerstein, former chair of the Palm Beach County Republican Party in Florida, said the tape would have been far more damaging had Trump been running against a “normal Democrat with a normal background.”
“For the Clintons to accuse anybody of being crude is pretty laughable,” he said. “Clearly he won the debate for a lot of reasons, including the hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton and her constantly lying about everything.”
Dinerstein said he also supported Trump’s decision to have present at the debate several of the women who accused former president Bill Clinton of mistreating them.
“The public needs to see there are real victims of the Clintons,” Dinerstein said.
Hillary Markowitz, New York coordinator of Jews Choose Trump who sports a T-shirt reading, “Hillary Loves Donald Trump,” said she was upset that the “liberal media” gave so much attention to the tape, “when hundreds of people died in the hurricane and hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes.”
“And yet this was the number one breaking news — are you kidding me, people?”
Stewart Ain is a staff writer for The Jewish Week