February 26, 2020

Team Trump pulls tense Jerusalem all-nighter

An hour before the initial election results came in, attorney Marc Zell, co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, took out a chart of American states and crunched numbers. He predicted Donald Trump would take Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia and South Carolina — that’s 44 electoral votes.

“If Georgia is too close to call, that’s a bad sign,” he said.

He entered the main hall of the iconic Mike’s Place on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem at about 1 a.m. local time (3 p.m. PST) to optimistic greeters. He was carrying a box of “Make America Great Again” caps to give out to some 200 Trump supporters and volunteers who united there on election night, although some were already wearing them, like William Eicoff, a resident of the city of Ariel in the West Bank and proud Florida voter.

He had volunteered to contact Jewish communities in his region to encourage residents to vote. As an independent, he voted for Gary Johnson in the last election. Not this time.

“I know Trump supports Israel and I know he’s a builder,” he said, hoping this translates into more support for building Jewish settlements in “Judea and Samaria,” his preferred terms. “But another thing he said that I hope happens, is that he moves the embassy to Jerusalem.”

A Jerusalem-based author/writer who hails from New York, Zahava Englard is on the “Trump Train” in large part because of his tough stance on radical Islam.

“My No. 1 concern is the relationship between the United States and Israel, and I have to say that I do believe that there is a Clinton cartel.”

She doesn’t even want to consider a Hillary Clinton victory. “You need hope to keep living.”

By 1:22 a.m. local time, there was room for hope. The crowd cheered as Kentucky and Indiana went for Trump, but the fact that Georgia was too close to call had Zell concerned.

But less than two hours later, swing states Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio were also too close to call. Yiscah Shechter, a Jerusalem resident of 27 years, was nervous, but comforted.

“God runs the world,” she said. “Whoever’s going to win will do whatever He wants.”

Zell continued to crunch his numbers, tapping his feet, jittery. He sipped beer and ate some fries during what he described as a “nail-biting moment.” Reporters stopped by his table, where he was surrounded by Trump faithfuls, asking for his thoughts, feelings and predictions. He kept saying it was too close to call, but that he remained cautiously optimistic.

Even when Georgia was called for Trump, Virginia was still in play, and Florida was neck and neck.

“I’m really nervous,” one Trump supporter shouted to Zell. “I think she’s going to squeeze by.” 

“Take your negative energy out of here,” Zell countered.

Then came the turning point: Trump held his narrow lead in Florida; hope returned. The New England states, as expected, turned blue, prompting some applause from the handful of Clinton supporters in the crowd, but when Trump took more Southern states and held onto his one-percentage-point lead over Clinton in Florida, the crowd, consisting mostly of men sporting all sorts of kippahs, began to cheer and applaud with renewed confidence.

Finally, Trump surpassed 200 electoral votes, and confidence turned to cockiness. After Trump won Ohio, with projections he might win Michigan, the large barroom thundered with “Trump Trump Trump” and “Lock Her Up.” On monitors hanging over the bar, Fox and CNN were broadcast side by side, and the crowd made fun of CNN (the Clinton News Network, to them) lagging behind Fox’s electorate victory projections. In this room, the media were the biggest losers.

At this point, the Trump Train passengers were driving forward, drunk on the prospect of victory. The election hinged on Michigan or Pennsylvania, too close to call. Trump was up to 254 electoral votes.

“It’s like a miracle,” said Barbara Schwerd, a New Yorker who made aliyah to Jerusalem seven years ago. She describes herself as a pro-choice feminist who didn’t want a female “criminal” in the White House.

By 8:05 a.m., the election still wasn’t called, and some people shouted at the screen. A few dozen people were left, and everyone just wanted to go to sleep.

“We just need one state.”

“Make the call!”