On the morning after, the mood at Likud headquarters was indecisive. Even if Benjamin Netanyahu stays on as prime minister, the result isn’t what the ruling party hoped for. Likud set three goals and hoped to meet at least two.
The first was a bloc of 61 Knesset members, the second was for the party not to fall below the 35 MKs it won in April, and the third was to win more votes than Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan. Only the third goal is still a possibility after all the votes are counted, but it’s safe to say that the gamble on calling a repeat election didn’t pan out.
The campaign team was the same as in April, as were the messages: Gantz is the weak left, Netanyahu is the strong right. The messages were delivered in short, focused videos that played on websites nonstop. Some of the spots were very popular, such as one with Netanyahu as a lifeguard, but despite or perhaps because of the noise they generated, the vote count fell short.
The campaign’s creative director was Srulik Einhorn, who in the past advised Avigdor Lieberman and also Likud’s Gila Gamliel. Einhorn (disclosure: He’s a friend of the writer) insists that Likud did not fail.
There’s no way to tart it up. You lost. The campaign failed.
“Absolutely not. It certainly wasn’t a great victory and it wasn’t what we had hoped for, but if you look at the numbers you’ll see we got the same 1.15 million votes that we did last time. We kept our base in the face of incomprehensible attacks by the media [and Netanyahu’s] upcoming criminal hearing .... What reduced our number of Knesset seats was the votes we unfortunately didn’t get from 150,000 Moshe Kahlon supporters and 120,000 Zehut voters.
“The rise in voting numbers in the Arab community also reduced our Knesset seats. That’s apparently what tipped the scales.”
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You began the campaign by saying Lieberman wouldn’t pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold. You poured money into courting the Russian immigrant vote and in the end his Yisrael Beiteinu party won nine seats, up from five in April. I wouldn’t call that a huge victory.
“We knew that what Lieberman proposes, a government without Haredim [the ultra-Orthodox], appeals to people, especially in the Russian immigrant community, where they view a partnership with the Haredim as an electoral disaster.
“But I respect Netanyahu for his unwillingness to badmouth entire segments of the population over two Knesset seats. He could have said for a minute and a half that he’d ‘prefer a government without Haredim’ and take a ton of votes from Lieberman. The bottom line is that Lieberman grew; he ran an excellent, focused campaign, and it paid off.
You wanted 61 MKs and you’re very far from that. Netanyahu won’t be able to form a government.
“That’s politics; I’m talking about the campaign. We scored one enormous strategic win, one that is, I must say, huge. We’re in effect one continuous campaign, in two stages. People aren’t paying attention to our giant accomplishment. Remember what Kahol Lavan is. It’s a party that was created to pull in votes from soft-right voters. They brought in right-wingers. Kahol Lavan adopted right-wing positions, sucked up to the Haredim and tried to fool right-wing voters.
“It was hard, but we blocked them completely. Gantz failed to brand himself as right-wing and that was only, only, only because of our campaign work; we showed his real face. From a supposed right-winger he got to the point where he said he’d implement the policies of Meretz and the Labor Party to win votes.
“If Lieberman hadn’t joined the ‘anyone but Bibi’ camp, Gantz’s chances of becoming prime minister would be identical to my chances of reaching the moon. Will Netanyahu manage to form a government? I believe he will. There’s no other prime minister and I don’t believe that there will be another election.”
You gave up on Likud TV, you released fewer videos. Maybe you weren’t good enough?
“In this campaign we were more focused. We tried things, we learned on the fly. We tightened the messages. Jonatan Urich [the Likud campaign’s new-media manager] is an amazing phenom, there’s no one like him anywhere. He can distill and sharpen a message in 10 seconds. People attack and insult him because he’s so good, and they’re jealous. He delivered a focused message that talked about Netanyahu’s proven success versus the proven failure of Gantz and Yair Lapid of the past several years.
“As usual, the media falsely accuses us of focusing only on the negative, but actually we made many more positive than negative videos. We played up Netanyahu’s astonishing achievements of the past decade. In the best tradition, no one was interested in that, but half a video on Gantz and people go nuts. That’s okay, it’s no big deal.”