Both were elected based on the rejection of his predecessor, but their promises for change have proved to be empty, and the polls reflect that. The bad news is that it is all downhill from here.
Joe Biden has not been a great American success story. He tried twice to run for president in 1988 and 2008, and failed in the early stages of the Democratic primaries. The reasons were his lack of television charisma, his mediocre speaking ability and problematic verbal gaffes, which made him look like a rookie politician. But in 2020, the stars aligned in his favor and brought him an election victory. The heavy burden for the Democrats after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency turned the gray blur of Biden into electoral gain. The slogan “Never Trump” brought the 78-year-old candidate a sudden blaze of glory.
Today, almost a year after the election, Biden is in a continuous decline in the polls. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, only 36% of respondents are happy with his administration, versus 53% who do not approve. According to a poll conducted by ABC, only 31% believe that he is fulfilling most of his big campaign promises. The result, according to the poll, is that if the 2022 midterm elections were held today, 51% of registered voters said that they would support the Republican candidate in their voting district; only 41% said that they would support the Democratic candidate.
What are the reasons for this rapid loss of faith, which is nearly unprecedented in American political history?
One reason is, of course, a natural gap between a candidate’s promises before an election and the ability to fulfill them. Election experts in the United States list other reasons: the chaotic exit of the U.S. Army from Afghanistan that allowed the Taliban government to retake the country, galloping inflation, and the dwindling early gains in the fight against COVID-19 following the delta variant — and now there is an even more contagious variant knocking at the door.
What are the chances that Biden can extricate himself from the pit that he is in? Strategic advisers in the U.S. claim that he does not have the personal skills to restore the American public’s faith merely by appearing in the news. The credit that he got just for taking Trump’s place has already been used up; now he is expected to make changes. One of the most important changes he is expected to make is to work a miracle that will eradicate the American economic decline. His presidency, as well as the continued Democratic rule, will rise or fall on that.
There are certain similarities between the rise of Biden and the rise of the Bennett-Lapid government in Israel. In the U.S., the central message of the voters was “Never Trump;” in Israel, it was “Never Netanyahu.” Here, too, the politicians who lead the coalition were not success stories before. Only the effective public Balfour protests turned them into the pride of the tribe, at least the tribe of the center-left or the anti-Netanyahus on the right.
In addition, here in Israel, the polls tell us that despite the fact that the partner parties replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, the partner parties in the coalition are not gaining traction. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not risen above the six seats that the Yamina Party has today. Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid has not been able to boost Yesh Atid past its 20-seat glass ceiling. Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli, Avigdor Lieberman and Nitzan Horowitz have kept their party positions in the polls; “New Hope,” led by Gideon Sa’ar, is falling apart.
In addition, this is happening only a few months after the establishment of the government, not an encouraging sign for the future. The further we get from the inauguration ceremony at the President’s House, the more critical voices are demanding that they produce something to show for themselves. In the meantime, the coalition is amassing a negative balance sheet because of the size of the government, the coalition money and political appointments.
To what extent can the coalition create change in the future? As with Biden, the party leaders in this government have a kind of bland image that makes it impossible to build the administration up with stirring speeches. The test of the coalition will be in its ability to make change in the security, economy, social and health arenas. The political arena, you have to remember, is blocked because of the prohibition against addressing it, which the coalition placed on itself.
So here is a list of topics which the government needs to address: The influence of the superpowers on the nuclear agreement with Iran, the struggle with the new COVID-19 variant, reining in the rising cost of living, extricating Israel from transportation snags, making it possible for young couples to buy housing — and more. This would be an enormous task even for a homogeneous and stable coalition that has broad internal agreement about objectives it faces. The Bennett-Lapid government is not graced with these qualities; the impression is that the party leaders who make up the coalition are doing everything they can to emphasize the differences between them.
Just as Biden is starting to understand that the campaign of change that he led in the 2020 election expired on the day that his presidency began, so will the dubiously-named “Government of Change” in Israel. The life of the American president will get increasingly harder as the midterm elections get closer. This is the same fate that awaits the Bennett-Lapid government.
Dr. Baruch Leshem is a lecturer in the political and communications faculty at the Hadassah Institute and the author of the book “Benjamin Netanyahu: Master of Political Marketing.”