Behind the Lines: Angst-ridden anniversary

A year after its conception, where did Kadima's copywriters go wrong?

nice sharon 88 (photo credit: )
nice sharon 88
(photo credit: )
More than anything else, Kadima was established a year ago as a brand name. And, like every brand name, it had a unique selling point - popular prime minister Ariel Sharon. It was a tailor-made suit, modeled according to the measurements of one man. The senior Likud and Labor politicians who defected to Kadima, as well as those who joined from outside the political sphere, overlooked the allegations of corruption against Sharon and his sons because they believed that he was the right man - indeed, the only man - for the country. When Sharon became comatose following his second stroke, the party lost its sole justification. Without Sharon, Kadima resembled the description of the pre-Civil War Spanish Republican Party: "People of all ages and conditions of the most diverse ideologies brought together merely to travel." What connected peaceniks like Shimon Peres with settler leader Othniel Schneller, or proud secularist Uriel Reichman with former Shas MK David Tal? Who could draw the "Russian" voters who had admired the strong leader? What chance did Marina Solodkin and model Anastasia Michaeli have of winning them over from Avigdor Lieberman? Sharon's aura, the momentum built up before his departure and the diminished popularity of rival parties were enough to ensure a Kadima victory at the ballot box. But its long-term objective - burning the Kadima label into public consciousness as the country's rightful party of power - was missed. If surveys are anything to go by (and since this is a marketing issue, they must be), Kadima has failed to inspire brand loyalty even among initially ardent "consumers." Indeed, opinion polls show that the party is receiving only half the support it garnered eight months ago. Particularly interesting is the fact that the public led the media in this new trend - not the other way around - expressing deep dissatisfaction with the party well before the pundits. A YEAR after its conception, where did Kadima's copywriters go wrong? They would probably claim that Kadima was the victim of a cruel sequence of events, beginning with Sharon's stroke, and culminating with the Lebanon war. But a leading brand should be more durable than that. After all, even Sharon's most devoted admirers never expected him to go on forever. Their hope, given his age, was for him to serve one more full term, during which he would have secured Kadima's dominance for reelection under a new leader. Nor should the war be an excuse. The summer's failings can be attributed to many factors. And even taking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's share of the blame into account, Kadima as a whole shouldn't be suffering so badly. To be sure, when a leader is unpopular, this has a negative impact on his party. Which explains why Labor, under Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is at an all-time low in the polls. But it appears that Kadima is taking more of a beating in public perception than anyone else. IRONICALLY, TWO of Kadima's greatest original strengths are now contributing to - if not responsible for - its decline. One was its focus on the personality at the man at the top, at the expense of the party's other members and its platform. The other was its "fresh, new" quality, now viewed as inexperience and incompetence. The three architects of the Kadima marketing campaign are all now out of the picture. They were central members of Sharon's "farm forum," now disbanded. Advertising guru Reuven Adler, who masterminded the visual side of Sharon's campaigns, has vowed never to return to politics. As it is, he was never in the game out of ideology. His decades-long friendship with Sharon was the only reason for his involvement. The other two, Eyal Arad and Lior Horev (partners in the PR firm that managed Kadima's media campaign and spin offensive), have also taken a number of steps back - though they are called in from time to time for consultations. Even more than being Sharon-lovers, the two share a visceral dislike for Binyamin Netanyahu. (Arad worked with Netenyahu for years, but shortly after his 1996 election victory, the two had a bad falling-out.) In the Channel 10 documentary, "All the Campaign's Men," Arad is seen at a Kadima brainstorming session, pressing his neck and saying, "This is what we have to do - cut off Bibi's blood[supply]." On election night, Arad and Horev were drunk with pleasure, not at Kadima's victory, but at the disastrous showing of Netenyahu's Likud, a mere 12 Knesset seats. There is little the two will not do to prevent Netenyahu's return to power - a distinct possibility, according to the latest polls, at least . WHAT CAN even the sharpest spin doctors do to revive a thoroughly discredited and unloved party brand? The obvious answer is to replace the leader. There are at least half a dozen senior Kadima ministers who harbor hopes of replacing him, but none of them, so far, is either powerful or brave enough to mount a challenge. Nor is any of them particularly popular among the public. Their only hope of changing their party's image, then, is to form some kind of triumvirate (an alliance between, say, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter, supported, perhaps, by Haim Ramon, if and when he extricates himself from his sexual harassment case) backing an agreed-upon contender. This would be an effort to project a new image of collective leadership with considerable military and civilian experience. Such a move is clearly already being considered by at least one member of the party, which explains why frequent criticisms of Olmert in the media are attributed to "a senior Kadima minister." With his highly attuned political instincts, Olmert is fully aware both of Kadima's external and internal situation. He knows that his only chance of rebuilding the brand is to come up with a grand plan that will be identified with him - one which would force the other ministers to rally around him and prove popular enough to become Kadima's main plank in the next elections. Since elections in Israel are never determined by financial or social platforms, there are three options: a successful attack on Iran's nuclear installations, a radical Israeli-Palestinian peace plan or a combination of the two. Olmert's latest barrage of tough talk aimed at the Iranians and his public overture to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas - "He will be surprised by how much we are prepared to give him" - are no coincidence.