PM's stroke will recalibrate Kadima's message

Without Sharon, there is no cement keeping Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz in the same party.

sharon 88 (photo credit: )
sharon 88
(photo credit: )
"Kadima is not one man, it is a path," Transportation Minister and Kadima stalwart Meir Sheetrit told Army Radio Monday morning, the day after Kadima's founder and star - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - suffered a mild stroke. Say what? Sheetrit, generally sober, was engaging in some wishful thinking. Kadima is Sharon. He is the magnet that has attracted politicians as diverse as Haim Ramon on the left and Tzachi Hanegbi on the right. He is the glue that binds the party together. Without Sharon, there is no cement keeping Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz in the same party. Sheetrit is kidding himself if he believes that the public views Kadima as presenting a clear ideological path. For the public, Kadima represents a vehicle through which Sharon can continue to pursue his policies - policies which, if the polls are to be believed, the majority of the country wants continued. The bad news for Sharon's strategists is that the stroke has thrust the health of the 77-year old, overweight prime minister onto center stage in the campaign. The good news is that the stroke hit relatively early in the campaign, giving Sharon's strategists sufficient time to recalibrate their message. Expect to see two messages coming out of Kadima's handlers over the next few days. The first will be obvious: Sharon is fit as a fiddle, the stroke left no lingering damage, and in no time at all Sharon will be back at his ranch hoisting grandkids on his knees and slinging lambs over his shoulders. The second message will be that Kadima is more than Sharon, that there is indeed a Kadima team with a Kadima message and a clear line of succession. Up until Sunday at 8 pm, Sharon's personality, pragmatism, realism and vast security experience were the party's message. From Monday morning that message will need to be a bit wider and more complex. The party's strategists will likely give the public a clear indication of who will fill what positions in the next government if Kadima, as expected, wins at the polls. This may go a long way toward dispelling uncertainty as to what direction the new party would be pulled were Sharon unable to complete another term in office. The party's strategists will also, in addition to selling Sharon, now need to provide a clear succession scenario in order to dispel the concerns of potential voters. In normal times, the question of a candidate's successor is not emphasized during a campaign; its not something a campaign wants to focus on. A party wants the voter to concentrate on the candidate, not the understudy. But following Sharon's stroke these are no longer normal times, and the prime minister's vascular event has undoubtedly planted questions in the minds of potential Kadima voters about whom their ballot would ultimately benefit if Sharon were incapacitated while in office. Voters may have an easier time voting Kadima if they would know exactly who would take Sharon's place if need be; if they know who would be his "vice president." Few in the US cast their ballots for president based on the identity of the vice presidential candidate, but knowing that person's identity does tend to put the mind at ease - at least you know. It doesn't take much creative thinking to imagine the Likud campaign spots in a few months warning that a vote for Sharon is really a vote for Peres, since Sharon won't be able to complete his term and Peres would take over. To disarm this argument, Kadima's strategists will now likely not only provide the public with a slate of personalities who will hold the party's key position in the next government, but also tell the public exactly who would replace Sharon if need be. All this successor-talk, paradoxically, will be in order to get people to vote precisely for Sharon.