Analysis

Donald Trump's Lesson for Netanyahu: Make It Personal and Exaggerate

Politics is first and foremost the art of story-telling and image, and those who would replace Netanyahu need to be more radical and more thuggish than Netanyahu himself.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump flanked by members of his family speaks to supporters during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump flanked by members of his family speaks to supporters during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. Timothy A. Clary, AFP Photo

Donald Trump won the election because the story he told his voters was persuasive and sweeping, while his rival, Hillary Clinton, had nothing to say.

Throughout the campaign, media interest focused on what the Republican candidate did and said. The Democratic candidate received only negative exposure, regarding alleged criminality and her health problems.

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Politics is first and foremost the art of story-telling and image, not the wording of diplomatic documents, which is where Clinton apparently shines. It's the difference between leadership, as understood by most of the public, and bureaucratic management of the state, which is the province of clerks and technocrats.

Trump lied and lied and lied, but his falsehoods never hurt him - because for many decades he has represented the American dream of making money and getting publicity, which endow their owners with the freedom to say and do whatever they want and to sleep with whoever takes their fancy.

Voters, who grew up with such characters in American history books, movies and TV, connected with the reality star - the hero of the western, with characters played by Tom Cruise, the man who succeeds against all odds.

Compared to him, Clinton's story was "more of the same," a tired Establishment that is trying to perpetuate itself. It's possible to run a country that way, but it makes enthusing voters very difficult.

Contrary to her opponent Trump and her husband Bill ("Shalom, haver") Clinton, Hillary is not good at soundbites. The innovation that she represented, as the first female presidential candidate from a major party, was not sufficiently exciting – and possibly exposed the conservatism and misogyny in American society. But most of all, she looked like a remnant from another era.

Politics today belongs to the extremes. There are no ratings for the "center," those good boys and girls who are faithful to the messages created by their advisers and who try to get along with everyone. The social networks in which the political debate takes place only gives likes to those who annoy.

It's not a new phenomenon – it's exactly what carried Barack Obama, a young and unknown senator – a minorities representative with a sharp and clear liberal message – to victory over Clinton in the 2008 primaries and to two presidential victories over moderate Republican candidates.

Israelis should not be surprised by the elections results: We saw the trailer only last year, when Isaac Herzog, a moderate conservative candidate who didn't say anything, lost big time to Benjamin Netanyahu, who spread stories of the Holocaust, media persecution and racism against Israel's Arab citizens.

The successes of Netanyahu and Trump teach us that the question is not whether to lie during a campaign but when – when the polls are having difficulty decoding the voters on the social periphery, who decide elections, and when the candidate must control the media agenda, even if it's through publicity that is negative.

Now it appears as if Netanyahu is preparing himself for elections, perhaps as early as next year, in anticipation of which he will radicalize his war against the imaginary "extreme left" and the "media." His violent responses to the investigations of Gidi Weitz and Nati Tucker in Haaretz and Ilana Dayan on Channel 2 are setting the tone. The "droves of Arabs" from the previous elections will seem anemic when compared to the Likud's next campaign.

Trump's victory and the fall of the mainstream media and polls in America, as occurred in Israel last year, will certainly boost the prime minister's self-confidence en route to a fifth term. And Netanyahu is not alone. The other political players are also behaving as if in a campaign – Naftali Bennett, Moshe Kahlon, Ayman Oudeh and Yair Lapid are all busy preparing the stories they will spread in the campaign.

Nevertheless, there is an important message in Trump's victory for those who would replace Netanyahu: Be more radical and more thuggish than he is. A Likud-lite like Herzog or Lapid simply won't work. Only a powerful and radical story from the left will be able to vanquish Netanyahu's radical story from the right.

That is precisely how Ehud Barak defeated him in 1999 and even today, from the distance of a pension and the political desert, the bearded Barak is the only one giving a media fight to the prime minister, without the politically correct gloves of the leaders of the "center-left."

Or as the best teacher I had in business administration studies, Prof. Aharon Ofer, taught me: If you want them to listen to you, personalize and exaggerate. That's exactly what Donald Trump did.