During the spring of 2015, as the election campaign was in full swing, news reports circulated about the return to politics of former Likudnik and prodigal son Moshe Kahlon, whose new party Kulanu was seen as a likely kingmaker and would play a major role in whatever coalition took shape. Yet while the political reemergence of Kahlon and the rise of his party dominated headlines during the 2015 cycle, he’s now been replaced by, metaphorically speaking, newer and shinier objects in this election: the long-awaited arrival of former chief of staff Benny Gantz, the first figure in years seen as posing a real threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and MK Orly Levi-Abekasis, formerly of Yisrael Beiteinu, who has established her own social affairs-focused party called Gesher. According to recent polls, Kahlon now stands dangerously close to the electoral threshold of four seats.

Those following the twists and turns of Israeli politics should, at first glance, hardly be surprised by Kahlon’s current struggle to stay relevant. To a certain degree, the perception of him as old news is simply a product of the temperament of the Israeli voting public. Every election produces a new star candidate with a fascinating backstory, buttressed by non-stop media speculation about their ability to challenge the status quo and their place in the constellation of other parties. This occurred with Yesh Atid’s ascent to 19 mandates, turning former journalist Yair Lapid into an overnight political sensation. It happened once again in 2015 with Kahlon’s return and is now playing itself out with Gantz. However, even under the best of circumstances, it might have proved challenging for Kahlon to maintain his status in the eyes of voters as some fresh-faced alternative, given his place over the last four years in the governing coalition, a role that makes it difficult to continue posing as anything other than “establishment.”

Kahlon was not simply an upstart looking to break into the political field; he was a veteran who had gained popularity and a credible reputation within the ranks of Likud, only to be shoved aside when it appeared he posed a long-term threat to the prime minister’s grip on power. While figures like Lapid and Gantz have engaged in more nebulous posturing about the state of the country and their goals upon being elected to office, Kahlon was clear from the start of his ambitions, intending to demand the Finance Ministry with the assumption that he would have the political clout to do so. For the victorious Netanyahu, this suited him just fine. The finance portfolio had been used to great success in undermining the appeal of a neophyte Lapid in 2013, and the prime minister likely hoped for the ability to foist any blame for economic issues upon Lapid’s successor. Despite the political dangers involved, Kahlon enthusiastically took on the role with the intention of pushing his flagship issue of driving down the price of housing for ordinary Israelis. Flashing forward nearly four years, Kahlon’s promise has come to naught, disappointing those constituents who believed he would do for housing what he’d achieved for the cellular phone market, recreating for himself — however unrealistic the expectation — the aura of a whiz gifted with the ability to magically solve voters’ financial woes.

But more than that, Kahlon had also initially marketed himself as a traditional Likudnik, commenting that the party of his birth had been overrun by extremist sentiment (and at one point openly expressing dovish tendencies). For many center-right voters, Kahlon, along with other more moderate elements of the party that had been expunged in the 2013 primaries like Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan, were vestiges of a saner right that simultaneously managed to maintain its nationalist credentials while respecting the rule of law. Kahlon was also seen, in light of the hard-right coalition being assembled around him, by center-left and left-wing voters alike as the voice of sanity in a government replete with politicians openly disdainful of democratic norms. As in the past with other parties, Kulanu would act as this coalition’s designated moderating force, keeping its worst tendencies at bay. However, this record has proven to be decidedly mixed as well.

While Kahlon had spoken at great length and often reiterated his red lines, noticeably his objection to legislation that might affect the status of the Supreme Court in any way, he and his party members were instrumental in helping pass such dubious bills as the Nation-State Law as well as the NGO Law. In effect, he may have inadvertently helped tar himself in the eyes of some voters as an enabler of the far-right, acting as a moderating influence in name only, and determined to keep the coalition together at all costs in order to chase his pipe dream of lowered housing costs. Some have even opined that, despite his insistence on maintaining political independence, Kahlon is simply biding his time and building up his credentials before returning to his original political home.  It has hardly helped that members of his own party like former ambassador Michael Oren and former commander Yoav Galant have overtly shifted over the years from espousing unabashedly center-left views regarding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to parroting the party line of today’s Likud, with Kahlon firing the latter upon realizing his plan on defecting.

Ultimately, while trying to fill a space close to the political center, Kahlon has become a victim of unfair expectations foisted upon him by conflicting forces from all sides of the spectrum, representing too many things to too many people. There was little he could do in maintaining a sense of excitement over his candidacy at this juncture in his career, a curse of the system in which he operates. Yet instead of being rewarded for providing a clear and unequivocal plan of action for what he intended to improve, he appears to have been punished for being too ambitious. Furthermore, the hope with which he was imbued by voters outside of his immediate constituency has cast him as feckless and only interested in protecting democratic norms when it served his own narrow and cynical calculus. Whether or not Kahlon passes the electoral threshold, his fate is sealed; his opportunity to rise to the top of the political hierarchy may have passed and he will likely be reduced to yet another one of many small parties vying for a modicum of influence in the next Knesset.