"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".