Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's ninth prime minister for the past 15 years, have much in common. Both consider Iran the most pressing Islamist threat to Western security. Both see Saudi Arabia as a vital Arab ally despite de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's autocratic crackdown on rivals and dissidents and the shocking murder and dismemberment of critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Both men are routinely attacked by journalists and critics as polarizing, divisive narcissists. And both, in turn, purport to despise reporters while demonstrating an impressive ability to bait and manipulate them.
But beyond their similar policy views and obvious telegenic prowess, the two septuagenarians have something else in common: Both have resisted their rejection by voters in free, fair, but bitterly contested national elections.
Trump traveled south to tour his controversial border wall last week and was received as if he were still the nation's commander in chief by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas). Clad in his trademark navy blue jacket, white shirt and extra-long crimson tie, and flanked by Secret Service agents, Mr. Trump addressed guests from a podium bearing the presidential seal. He spoke in the present tense of his administration's accomplishments.
Visiting Mar-a-Lago before he decamped to his golf course home in Bedminster, N.J., was a surreal venture into a political "Twilight Zone." Months after his electoral defeat, club members routinely rose from their tables to applaud and cheer him whenever he entered the club's terrace. Greeted by thunderous applause and shouts of "keep on fighting, Donald," Trump would weave his way across the patio, waving to supporters, pumping a fist in the air. If club members were troubled by the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, which Trump's refusal to concede election defeat and inflammatory rhetoric helped to inspire, there was no sign of it.
"Bibi" Netanyahu, journalists and analysts say, has exhibited similar denial. As Israeli journalist Ben Caspit noted last week, Netanyahu's official website up until June 28 still referred to him as Israel's prime minister, and lawmakers in his Likud party were addressing him as such. Like Trump's Republican counterparts, Likud members have rejected the legitimacy of their country's new government and denigrate Naftali Bennett, Israel's new right-wing prime minister as a "con man."
While Trump calls President Biden "sleepy, creepy Joe" and repeatedly has claimed, without evidence, that widespread voter fraud led to the theft of his presidency, Likudniks, too, routinely blast their own new government — a coalition of eight parties that agree on little apart from the need to end Netanyahu's 15-year stranglehold on power — as "the greatest political fraud in the history of the state." Though the new government was sworn in on June 13, Likudniks and their ultra-Orthodox religious allies, which had given Netanyahu a parliamentary majority, continue acting as if they still control the Knesset.
While Trump promptly left the White House before Biden's inauguration, Netanyahu has more vigorously resisted relinquishing the treasured perks of office. Although Bibi was supposed to leave his official residence no later than two weeks after Bennett was sworn in, Bibi and wife, Sara, still live there. After Bennett agreed to postpone his own move there for a few more weeks, Netanyahu intensified his effort to persuade Likud to cover his other private expenses. He only recently bought a cell phone and, as of late last week, still had no personal credit card, Caspit reports.
Both men also continue wielding extraordinary influence within their own parties. But Trump has been limited to denouncing Republican critics and successfully urging House Republicans to depose Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from her third-ranking GOP post because of her criticism of Trump's false election claims. In contrast, Netanyahu is now the leader of the Knesset opposition, a powerful platform for sowing division within the new government and plotting a political comeback.
Though it is hard to topple a government in Israel, Bennett's government will fail if it is unable to pass a state budget in the coming months, or if another divisive issue splits his fragile coalition. Given Netanyahu's impressive political skills — he is widely known as "The Magician" for his near-miraculous recovery from missteps and financial scandals that would have destroyed less-gifted politicians — one cannot rule out a return to power. On the other hand, his critics say, that prospect alone ensures that the new ruling coalition's members will stick together.
Finally, as ex-leaders, both Trump and Netanyahu face legal peril.
Under Israeli law, even though Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust — charges he denies — he could not have been jailed or forced to stand down unless convicted of those crimes. Out of office, Bibi now lacks such protection. While the U.S. Constitution permits Congress to impeach and remove from office a president found to have committed ill-defined "high crimes and misdemeanors," it is silent, by contrast, on whether a president can be criminally prosecuted in court. As a former president, however, Trump is fair game. The Manhattan district attorney's indictment of the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, charging them with 15 felonies including a scheme to defraud, conspiracy, grand larceny, tax fraud and falsifying business records, is dangerous for Trump. While the indictment does not charge him personally, he could be vulnerable if Weisselberg turns on him to save himself from jail, or if the ongoing probe finds new or additional evidence against him. Even an extended trial could be financially punishing for Trump, sinking his prospects of another run for president in 2024.
Small wonder that Trump, like Netanyahu, has denounced the DA's charges as politically inspired.