Election Contagion

April 19th, 2019

Here’s what worries me in the wake of the recent Israeli elections and in anticipation of the U.S. 2020 Presidential election:
In a sentence, I worry that the American voter may arrive at the same sort of transactional decision that a plurality of Israeli voters apparently did, namely hold their collective noses and vote for Donald Trump for a second term.
Break it down with me: after 10 years of Benjamin Netanyahu as their prime minister, Israeli voters have no illusions about Bibi.
They know he is a narcissistic power addict who will do anything to keep himself in office. If he survives through July, he’ll become the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s 71-year history after the founding father, David Ben Gurion.
They also know that if the pending prosecutorial charges against him are true, he is personally corrupt. They know he has fallen in love with the good life of fancy cigars and pink champagne and has apparently enriched himself with investments in some of Israel’s arms suppliers.
And yet they voted for him in sufficient numbers to give him the opportunity to form what will be the most hard-right, religiously-conservative government in their nation’s history.
The vote was partly a referendum on Bibi, but it was more than that. It was a decision that, despite his many personal and political failings, Netanyahu has steered the country to a strong economy, relative security and a standoff with the Palestinians. He also has a close and profitable relationship with President Trump and his family, a cozy cooperation that has already borne fruit with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and overt support for Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Can U.S. support for Israeli annexation of key West Bank settlements be far behind? Is it already baked into the “deal of the century,” the U.S. peace proposal that is expected to be unveiled soon?
The bottom line, the Israeli voters seemed to be saying, is all that really counts.
Will the U.S. voter come to a similar conclusion in 2020?
If the U.S. economy is still strong, if unemployment is still low, if wages are up measurably, if Trump’s trade wars have not destroyed American agriculture, if U.S. troops are not committed to any new wars, will the American voter give the President another turn around the dance floor?
If no broadly-appealing Democrat emerges from the primary pack, will the voters settle for the devil-you-know?
After two-plus years in office, and especially after the damming documentation in the Mueller report of President Trump’s lies, the American voters can have no more illusions about their president’s character than the Israelis do about Bibi. Will they hold their collective noses as significant numbers of Israelis did?
The answer depends largely on the Democrats. It depends on how they frame the debates and whether the candidate who emerges from the primaries can appeal to the centrist voters in the industrial Midwest who defected to Trump in 2016.
Stay tuned.


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