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You couldn’t miss the smiles on the faces of the hundreds of people standing in line in the cold in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday night. The ballot booths had closed, the results had yet to be announced and they had come to celebrate what they hoped would be a victory party with their candidate, Lee Zeldin. Some of them wore kippot, others only put them on after they entered the event. Former mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa was there waiting with them, wearing his trademark red beret. The atmosphere was uplifting.

Zeldin, a Jewish Republican, and diehard Israel supporter took upon himself an almost impossible challenge by running for governor of New York, a traditionally Democrat state. Waiting for hours for his election night gathering it seemed to those present that Zeldin had done the impossible. He was surprisingly popular and it looked like he could defeat the Democrat candidate Kathy Hochul, or at least put up a close fight.


Zeldin ran a by-the-book Republican campaign. He spoke about crime, one of the GOP’s main messages: His campaign put out terrifying videos about how many people have been murdered on the subway this year after being pushed off the platform and under trains.

Like most Republican candidates, Zeldin had the backing of former President Donald Trump, but in retrospect, it turned out that Trump’s backing was not so much a blessing but more of a curse as it ended up distancing Zeldin from winning the state.

Trump is not a popular personality in New York, so much so in fact, that he was forced to leave the city he was born in and in which he spent his whole life. A poll conducted after the vote showed 28 percent of Democrat voters didn’t vote Republican because of their disdain for Trump. Zeldin lost out to Hochul by a margin of 5%.

But just like Trump, he didn’t really recognize that fact in a speech he gave at the up-market Cipriani restaurant. “There’s a piece of this story that is still to be told,” Zeldin declared to his supporters. “There’s over 1.4 million Election Day votes that are still out.” The hours passed, but the results remained the same.

New York test

Zeldin’s story illustrates the state of play across America in the midterms. In the past, turnout averaged around 40%, but this time over 50% of Americans exercised their right to vote, a figure closer to that in presidential elections. Around 45 million people took up the early voter option.

Talking with voters and activists, I got the impression that there was a sense of urgency around the midterms. For both sides, it is a “battle for America.”

“I’ve always turned out to vote, in every election,” said Greg, a 61-year-old Philadelphian. “They are always important, but this time, along with the presidential election in 2024, they will be decisive. They will shape the face of America. He voted Democrat despite labeling himself a centrist.

What happened to Zeldin in New York also happened to Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants and a successful cardiac surgeon who became a TV celebrity health expert and a household name ran as a Republican against Democrat John Fetterman.

Oz, who came to fame during his guest appearances on the Oprah show is charismatic, good-looking and a great speaker. Fetterman on the other hand is a shaved-head, bull of a man who always wears a hoodie, has strong left-wing politics, and is backed by progressive Senator Bernie Sanders.

Six months ago, Fetterman suffered a stroke, which made it difficult for him to communicate. Despite this, Fetterman turned up for a television debate against the fast-talking Oz. In theory, Oz should have won, everything was lined up in his favor. But in practice, he lost the Senate seat and the Republican party lost the chance to gain a majority in the upper chamber (as of the time of writing).

So why did Oz lose? At the local political level, Fetterman played up the fact that Oz is an outsider in Pennsylvania to which he moved recently to be able to run for the state. The accusation stuck. Against the backdrop of the bucolic, historic town of Harrisburg, Patty H. Kim, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, explained that “the voters are a lot smarter than politicians think. When they see someone who is there for themselves, who wants to make more money or become more famous, they can smell it a mile off. Dr. Oz looks like an opportunist who wants the headlines and the power, and that puts off a lot of voters. He’s rich and he has everything, and now he wants more power? I don’t trust him. I support Fetterman. He has a young family, he doesn’t live in a rich neighborhood, and he lives the life of the common people here.”

But it wasn’t just local politics that defeated Oz, national politics were also at play. Oz is a Trump man. As president, Trump appointed Oz to his council on sport, fitness, and nutrition. As a former president, Trump recommended Oz to the Republican Party in Pennsylvania. Because Trump’s word carries weight – or at least it did – Oz won the Pennsylvania primary. Trump even held an election gathering for Dr. Oz.

But in the days before the vote, the celebrity physician tried to escape the honey trap. He avoided appearing with Trump on stage. In a last-minute effort – contrary to Trump’s bellicose line – Oz sent out messages of unity and rapprochement to the Democrats. It wasn’t enough. Oz’s former friend, Oprah Winfrey endorsed Fetterman. The battle was won by a 3 percent margin in Fetterman’s favor.

Florida waiting

It was the same in Washington, New Hampshire, and Georgia (which will probably go to a runoff due to its state voting laws), and in dozens of seats in the House of Representatives. A race that was supposed to have ended with a big Republican lead, for so many reasons, ended neck and neck, and perhaps even with a slim Democratic victory.

The “Red Wave” that everyone thought would bring back the man with the red hat ended in barely a splash. It’s true that the Republicans will likely have a small majority in the House and they may even take the Senate in the end, but regardless it will be by a lot less than they could have.

Given the unpopularity of President Biden, his physical condition, high inflation, and the fact that the incumbent almost always loses, de facto, Trump has suffered a heavy loss: 2-0 to Biden.

Trump had planned to announce his run for the 2024 presidential elections on Monday, backed, he hoped, by a big victory in the midterms. He wanted to be the first Republican to throw his hat into the race and to be identified with a big Republican victory. He also wanted to make it hard for law enforcement authorities to act against him by being an official candidate for the presidency.

Trump will now have to rethink. Perhaps he will suffice with the meager achievements he will emerge with from the midterms and present them as a decisive victory. The spin may work with Republican voters, but it is unlikely to convince the party’s power brokers.

The Republican establishment has always had its reservations about Trump and it is only public support for him that forced him on the party. But following the results of the midterms, GOP donors and activists, and pundits, are beginning to doubt Trump’s ability to bring the party back to power in two years’ time. If he failed the mid-term test what are the chances he can win the presidential election?

Ron DeSantis, who won the Florida gubernatorial battle for the second time, is a name that is once again being raised. DeSantis, unlike Trump, beat his Democrat rival by an enormous margin.

He exudes presidential ability and his right-wing positions are part of an established conservative agenda and not just a whim DeSantis has made Florida prosperous and the Republican and Republican he has been through difficult tests such as managing the coronavirus crisis, with a conservative agenda, and dealing with severe hurricanes. He also showed impressive staying power against his rivals from the left, and the media giant Disney.

But the question is whether he will even want to run for President.  Trump has already insulted him this week, dubbing him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”  In other words, he plans to crush DeSantis mercilessly, just as he has done with every other rival. At the moment, party polling shows Trump has a huge lead. Or at least that was the case until the midterms.

Only now, in the absence of a red wave is DeSantis ahead of Trump for the first time in the betting for the Republican candidate for 2024. Perhaps the gamblers know something that DeSantis doesn’t. He hasn’t decided yet whether to test the waters, so why should he let Trump drag him through the mud.

“Losses by candidates who are identified with Trump in the swing states were expected,” says Elie Pieprz, a Republican political consultant. “I believe the results will increase the motivation of donors and strategists and the party to move on without him.

“It is very likely that they will want to get the dirty work done as soon as possible. So that by the time the presidential elections come, Trump will be distant history and won’t harm the party.”

A victory for the progressives

Whatever the Republicans do, Biden and the Democrats will feel vindicated. The picture of a smiling president, taken on the night of the midterms reflects the mood in the Democrat camp.

Not only the broad center of the party is happy, its fringes are too.  Before the midterms, the Republicans and moderate Democrats said the elections were a referendum on progressive agendas. Those that encourage sex changes and gender mixing, uncontrolled immigration, cuts to police budgets, and sometimes even hostility to Israel.

Had the Democrats failed, the party centrists could have said “We told you, the American people don’t buy your crazy ideas. Now, the radical left has the upper hand, or as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “See Lee Zeldin! New York is telling you to get out of here with your fascism.” Zeldin did not respond. Graph after all that.

The important question from our perspective is are the results good or bad for the Jews? Pieprz says that the tiny Republican majority will help for Israel find partners in Congress for its positions on the Iranian issue. He believes that despite the renewed mandate that Biden received he will not pressure Israel on the Palestinian issue.

“A former Democratic Congressman told me that the new situation will lead Biden to deal with the Palestinian issue and the two-state solution, but in my opinion that is unlikely to happen,” says Pieprz.  Biden will be active on China and will be looking for common ground with the Republicans on this. He might take additional measures on Ukraine, measures that Congress will be unable to stop.

“But when it comes to Israel, the Republicans will be pushing to move forward with the Abraham Accords and will be more active on the Iranian issue. They will demand aggressive action to support the protesters against the Iranian regime. You will hear see hearings in the Senate where the question will be asked, why isn’t the administration doing more to support the Iranian people? But beyond that, the Republicans will be busy preparing themselves for the 2024 presidential elections.

{Reposted from IsraelHayom}


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Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.