Faced with this year’s Republican and Democratic presidential nominees — commonly described as a loud-mouthed tycoon and reality show celebrity with a penchant for insulting women and minorities, and a career politician with a record marred by endless accusations of corruption and deceit — even longtime party stalwarts are finding themselves wondering how to vote.
The quandary is no less difficult for local Jewish voters, some of whom are, for the first time, seriously considering third-party candidates or write-ins or not voting at all.
Daniel Berkowitz, who has always voted for the Republican nominee for president, said things are different this year.
“I was hoping that coming out of the primary cycle, Donald Trump would fit the bill for a presidential candidate, but I think he’s moved even further away from what he should be as a commander-in-chief,” said Berkowitz, a real estate developer who lives in Squirrel Hill.
On the other hand, “Clinton scares me more than [Trump],” said Berkowitz, who worked in the Department of Defense during the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency and at the beginning of George W. Bush’s presidency. “She’s been in politics a long time, and her irresponsible activity with an unsecured email server has allowed foreign governments to obtain information on her. I think the email leak before the [Democratic] convention was just a start.”
For now, Berkowitz is favoring Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, and his running mate Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts. Berkowitz tends to “lean libertarian,” he said; he also believes that governors make better presidents because of their executive experience.
“Johnson and Weld appeal to me,” he said. “And if this election cycle doesn’t need viable third parties, I don’t know what does.”
Likewise, Squirrel Hill resident Avi Avishai, a software engineer and registered Republican, is backing the Johnson-Weld ticket.
Ideologically, Avishai is aligned with libertarian thought, he said, describing his philosophy as: “I think I know what’s best for me, but I have no way of knowing what’s best for you. People really should be left to their own devices, unless they are harming others.”
In past elections, Avishai has voted for the Republican presidential ticket, although during the last two cycles, in which he cast his ballot against Barack Obama and for John McCain, then Mitt Romney, he felt like he was choosing “the lesser of two evils — the less egregious.”
“But this time, there is no lesser evil,” Avishai said. “I can’t see why Hillary Clinton is better than Donald Trump or why Donald Trump is better than Hillary Clinton.”
Avishai does not view a vote for Johnson as wasted.
If the number of people preferring a third-party candidate to the Republican and Democratic options actually voted for that third-party candidate, he might actually have a chance of winning, Avishai said.
“Trump fans say that by voting for Johnson I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, and Clinton fans say if I vote for Johnson, I’m voting for Trump,” he said. “So I’m either getting two votes, or someone is full of it. But [Clinton and Trump] are both terrible in their own way and unqualified. I would vote for a dogcatcher over these two. You’ve got one guy with no experience and one woman who was a senator with no achievements to her name.”
Pittsburgh native Dara Stern, who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, is confounded by the options this election cycle and is undecided as to whether she will vote for Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein.
Stern, who is currently training to become an electrician, sees “pros and cons” for both third-party candidates.
“I’m definitely not considering Trump,” she said. “And I can’t imagine voting for Hillary Clinton.”
Stern was dismayed that in the aftermath of the leaked Democratic National Committee email controversy, Clinton hired newly resigned DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to help head her campaign.
“If Hillary Clinton is trying to build bridges with Bernie Sanders supporters, she did not make that clear with the hiring of Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” Stern said.
Clinton’s inability to admit the mistakes she made in regard to the email scandal that arose from her using a private server while she was secretary of state is also disturbing to Stern, a registered Democrat.
“I want a leader who is honest,” she said.
Stern also has issues with both third-party candidates. Stein “has no legislative or governing experience,” and Stern also strongly disagrees with Stein’s position on Israel. Stein, who is Jewish, supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the Jewish state and has called out Israel for alleged “apartheid” against the Palestinians.
And while Stern agrees with Johnson on issues such as legalizing and regulating marijuana and prostitution and term limits for members of Congress, she does not align with the governor on issues of education and the environment.
Although she is unsure who will get her vote in November, one thing Stern knows with confidence is that voting for a third-party candidate is “not throwing your vote away.”
“The two-party system is what got us here in the first place,” said Stern. “At some point we need to put our foot down and say, ‘No.’ This is not the democratic way, having to vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Eric Weingrad, a musician and native Pittsburgher who supported Sanders in the primary, will not be voting for Trump or Clinton and is likewise unimpressed by the third-party candidates.
“I’m thinking of not voting or about the possibility of writing in Bernie Sanders,” Weingrad said but added he has “reservations” about the write-in.
“If enough people do it, then [Sanders] will be blamed for being a Ralph Nader (accused of being a spoiler in the 2000 election between Al Gore and Bush),” said Weingrad.
Although Weingrad, 47, had been a registered Democrat since he turned 18, he “unregistered” after being disillusioned by the DNC email scandal. He is now an independent.
“I feel the Democratic Party is terribly corrupt,” Weingrad said. “What the DNC did to Bernie Sanders during the primaries and giving him no chance of winning. Then being caught doing it, and the convention goes on as planned. That’s a big deal. That’s telling half the Democratic Party that your votes don’t count. I’m not going to stay a part of that.”
Although he thinks that between Clinton and Trump, “she’s the best,” Weingrad will not be giving his vote to Clinton.
Identifying as a “raging, hardcore progressive,” with a visible online political presence, Weingrad is dismayed that no one from the Green Party has reached out to him to garner his support for Stein. She will not get his vote.
And although he aligns with Johnson on the legalization of marijuana, “that’s where he and I split,” said Weingrad, who is “going back and forth between writing in Sanders and not voting.”
“I believe this whole thing is a joke, and we’re the butt end of the joke,” he said. “It does not even seem real to me.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.