Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Key Consideration

Kinsella has a list of his predictions for 2009, with one sentence standing out in particular for me:
"When the face of your entire political organization is one man – and a man whom voters are increasingly unenthusiastic about – you’ve got trouble, baby."

I see many reasons why the Conservatives will go down to defeat, but chief among them is that their fortunes are tied to a decided liability. Stephen Harper has never been much of a compelling figure to the average voter. However, the Conservatives were right to make the idea of "leadership" a centerpiece in their strategy, because despite Harper's shortcomings, he had what I would call relative appeal. Sure, Harper would routinely lose to "neither", when voters where asked who would make the best PM, but he had the benefit of an adversary so unpopular, that his own inability to resonate was largely muted. In other words, Dion provided Harper political cover, in a comparative sense he always look strong, making the question a decision between these two men, the Conservatives relished their chances.

Since the Conservatives were first elected, we've seen this "cult of personality" routine develop, to the point where the party brand is synonymous with the leader. Surrogates have no profile, even a visit to the party website, demonstrates that this is Harper's Conservative Party, everything else an afterthought. The effect of this prolonged strategy has essentially cemented the idea that, as Harper goes, so too do the party's fortunes. I would submit, that once sound strategy, is now an anchor that may swamp Conservatives.

No matter what the coalition comfort blanket provides Conservative partisans these days, I believe it an objective fact that Stephen Harper is mortally wounded, as a result of recent events, his stature at a low point, the narrative such, his primary appeal is tarnished. What was once an advantage, is now a weakness, we have two converging forces, culminating in a changed landscape. Not only has Harper been bloodied, but the Liberals have improved their presentation, the human pinata that had become Dion, replaced with a leader who is Harper's equal at the very least. That new reality means that the entire Conservative thrust is now in question, and any attempt to move the emphasis away from the leader is problematic, given the entire calculus to date.

Stephen Harper, the principled, if bland, leader, a person people knew what he stood for, even if they sometimes disagreed, has largely evaporated. The flip flops, the hyper-partisanship, the inaction, the double speak, whatever your view, you have to blind to argue Harper hasn't been impacted. Again, take solace in the coalition, but don't forget, we've seen universal opinion that gives Harper the primary "blame" for the current crisis. That stink sticks, Harper's smaller and whatever budget is presented, it will hardly equate to any notion of "victory", more rightly varying degrees of damage control.

I have plenty of optimism for 2009, but one of my main sources is that the Conservatives are now somewhat saddled with Harper, that they've previously understood as their trump card. Couldn't agree more, "you've got trouble baby".

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Conservatives are in real danger of becoming the ADQ of Canada. When a party becomes a one-man show, it's easy for the opposition to just destroy the man in order to cripple the party.

We've seen that with Mario and the ADQ, and we may be seeing that with Harper too. Kinsella, in his new Ignatieff Comms Czar role, has already started the ball rolling.

Expect a new Tory ad blitz very soon. That's one thing they know how to do.

knb said...

Expect a new Tory ad blitz very soon. That's one thing they know how to do.

Indeed they do, but what direction do they go in at this point?

They'll want to define Ignatieff on their own terms, but at the same time they have to appear to be working with him. This isn't going to be the cakewalk they had with Dion, especially since Ignatieff has said he'll respond immediately.

On the other hand, as Steve points out, Harper and co. depended on the leader's persona, such that it is, to see them through. I think Harper has done irreparable damage to his image, though it was not completely destroyed. Liberals should not ignore that damage done, imo.

Steve V said...

"Liberals should not ignore that damage done, imo."

I expect us to highlight it :) Anon, make a great point, because of the way they've structured their supposed appeal, we have a clear view of the target.

As for Ignatieff, I think we have some sense of how the Cons might try too define him, and my hope is that we have things in the works to counter.

sjw said...

In the upcoming federal election I'd be curious to know how many less than popular former or current Liberal MPs around the country will be attempting reelection? Here in West Nova I heard it from the horses mouth that our very own RT will likely be Liberal torchbearer. I believe if acted upon this decision will be a nonstarter for most voters and provide Harper an easy 'get'. How much influence does a leader have over who runs or doesn't run in any given riding? If I were Ignatieff I'd be advising Mr T that a 'fifth' time round is definitely NOT a charm.

burlivespipe said...

I think there is now visceral proof for those inside the CON bubble that Harper has chosen 'warfare' over governance, and that to most Canadians is antithesis of what we expect from our leaders. He's also cut virtually to the bone into his own 'trust' factor among the core conservative crowd, who loved the idea of 'set election dates' and 'elected senators'... By tossing these promises so cynically and desperately off the ship, Harper has now become what those despicable Liberals rarely were, panic-driven partisans with a timourous claim to power.

Mushroom said...

"As for Ignatieff, I think we have some sense of how the Cons might try too define him, and my hope is that we have things in the works to counter."

A strong united convention in Vancouver will do the trick. The "illegitimate" leader thing no longer a major argument point.

Steve V said...

I was thinking more the stuffy academic elitist, that lacks the common touch, but that too :)

Mushroom said...

"I was thinking more the stuffy academic elitist, that lacks the common touch, but that too :)"

The sweater man trick went dry towards the end of the election campaign the last time. Harper won because Canadian voters absolutely loathed the Green Shift.

There would be an easy target for the Grits if Harper decides to "go Sarah Palin" against Iggy. You can throw the firewall speeches and link Harper to the likes of Flanagan and Ted Morton. It may give you 40 to 50 seats in Quebec and steal some votes from Layton.

Con diehards would love to see Harper do this, thus the pressure to put a poison pill in the budget. However, the Iggy handlers are more than prepared to fight the hard right Harper. Why do you think Iggy's latest book about his trip in Western Canada?

burlivespipe said...

Off topic, tonight's At Issue panel was both rote and very interesting IMO. The responses and opinions of Coyne, Murphy and Gregg narily wandered from the 'the major stumble of the coalition' while giving a sideline glance to Harper's act of thumbing his nose at the recent election results (ok, Murphy was hilarious for suggesting that Harper may need medical therapy if he really believes he's faultless on the impasse)...
But what really intrinsically struck me was how many of the questions dealt with the same general theme -- Harper has made a major mistake and hasn't paid for it yet. Even taking into account the usual perceived bias of CBC viewers (which I think is actually more pan-Canadian than the tory-tune sayers of CTV or Global) it seemed like nearly every question pinpointed the current troubles of governance at Harper's feet. I doubt only but the most tone-deaf CONs would not read something serious that they need to address, and not necessarily by pointing at the opposition and saying 'but they did it too!'

Steve V said...

burl

I saw it too. I thought Coyne sounded like a Conservative apologist, especially when they spoke of the fundraising subsidy, and he parroted Harper's "the public supports the measure", as though a groundswell of want was the real impetus for introducing it.

I thought Murphy made some good points.