An election process is usually one part issues, which highlight the main points of contention among the public, and one part strategic planning by experts. The main point of contention between the big parties, and between the political blocs, is all too familiar to the public, and the closer Election Day comes, the more the parties seek to intensify the debate in efforts to distinguish themselves from the rest. Experts are hired to supply the tools.
For example: One party wanted to raise the issue that the current Likud-led government let the Tal Law (which essentially exempted ultra-Orthodox men from mandatory military service) expire without finding a practical alternative solution, but the issue has failed to grab the public's attention. The experts failed. Likud launched their election campaign late on the assumption (attributed by the media to strategic adviser Arthur Finkelstein) that, with such an initial advantage over all rival parties, they would be better off anesthetizing the debate. By now it is clear that this was a mistake. Even if the right-wing bloc didn't lose votes as a result, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party is in decline. It was a professional mistake.
One gets the impression that Likud is so content with the shrinking of the Center-Left bloc that they decided to forgo any real attempt to erode it even more. The managers of the Likud campaign believed that it would be futile, and that there is no point, in efforts to crack the opposing wall. It would be unwise to invest resources in trying. But this view is another professional mistake, regardless of the ideology. If Likud wanted to divert votes away from Tzipi Livni's Hatunuah party or Shelly Yachimovich's Labor, they would not have removed the two-state solution speech (that Netanyahu gave at Bar Ilan) from the party platform. They would remind Livni of her own explanations on the disappointment over the Palestinians' lack of desire for a real peace agreement. To send Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman to complete this task, when his personal/electoral popularity is at an all time low, constitutes a basic failure to understand the election process. That, or an insult to our intelligence.
Likud's conduct vis-à-vis Naftali Bennett was also bizarre. As expected, Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi tried to siphon votes away from Likud by presenting the ruling party as a threat to the continued settlement of Judea and Samaria. Instead of going after him personally (it was justified to attack him for advocating insubordination, but the attacks went overboard), Likud should come back with names like Yuli Edelstein, Zeev Elkin, Benny Begin and Tzipi Hotovely — Likud MKs and ministers who represent the same views as Habayit Hayehudi and who have integrated smoothly into Likud's policies. They should have come back with the argument that Likud has not removed a single community from Israeli land and has expanded the construction in Judea and Samaria without compromising the rule of law.
On Tuesday, Likud experts realized that they had made a mistake, and tried to fix it. But how much have they lost on the way?
If the Likud experts had thought about their strategy before implementing it, they would have flooded the airwaves with Likud's unequivocal diplomatic victory — mobilizing crippling global sanctions on Iran — and several other central issues, like curbing the influx of illegal African migrants into Israel. Though Likud is on the defensive when it comes to socioeconomic issues, the party could have at least touted its accomplishments in that area, like having improved childcare.
Ultimately, Likud's biggest asset is the argument that Netanyahu presented on Tuesday: that he is seen by the public as the most suited to navigate this country during hard times. That is a winning card, but you don't need such a cumbersome team of experts to play it.