I've argued before, that the Conservatives would hold off, because the hyper-partisanship of November, coupled with the need to look serious on the economy, made the prospects of a high profile attack counter-productive. In many ways, attacking Ignatieff would say more about the messenger than the target, reinforcing negative narratives for the Conservatives. I think this is the reason for the pause to date, and the sentiment in the Globe and Mail piece tends to reinforce that view.
Ignatieff, on balance, has had a terrific first few months at the helm. I honestly can't remember the last time, no matter the tenure, wherein a leader of opposition has been so firmly place at the center of our political debate. Part of that is circumstance, part fascination, part making your own news, but it's all congealed to present Ignatieff as a very serious threat to the Conservatives- a fact which is clearly starting to unnerve them, and may well move up the attack starting date:
The shift comes with government members fretting about relatively strong polling numbers for Mr. Ignatieff and his party.
Many agree that while the Commons atmosphere might have been more pleasant in recent weeks, the survey data haven't been.
“The dynamic shifted back to the old thinking,” said a government insider. He said he doesn't know for sure when the attack ads will start airing, but predicted they will start surfacing over the summer.
“The failure to brand him in the way we did Stéphane Dion is actually worrying some people — that maybe we've missed our opportunity to brand him negatively in the eyes of Canadians, and that an impression of competence is now sticking.
“So the pendulum is shifting back — that we should attack a bit more.”
Competent seems a recurring theme, statesmanlike another, compelling, you can see why the Conservatives find it hard to resist their natural instinct. The "summer" reference is something for Liberals to keep in mind, as soon as they figure they can get away with it, any hint of static economic data, it will come. Maybe sooner? When you hear talk of the dynamic switching back, Conservatives reconsidering the negative pause, it really is a recognition that Ignatieff is getting traction, something might be slipping away, not acting tantamount to a surrender of sorts. For that reason, I can see better judgement being abandoned, and the Conservatives beginning sooner than they've previously considered plausible. The question then becomes, is it a mistake?
Three predictable lines of attack:
Tories say there will be three themes to their attacks: that Mr. Ignatieff is an out-of-touch elitist; that he flip-flops (they will cite his shifting positions on a carbon tax, on coalition with the other opposition parties, and on Israel's 2006 bombing of Lebanon); and that he's a fair-weather Canadian.
As far as the elitist angle, I would argue Ignatieff has done well in recent weeks to dispel this characterization. Ignatieff has been the one in front of the audience, taking questions, wading in, demonstrating an ease with we commoners. Contrast that with ivory tower Steve, who has NEVER mingled with the masses, I can see plenty of return fire (assuming the resources available) that could cripple that argument.
As for a fair-weather Canadian, that could fly with a subset of the Canadian population, but our patriotism tends to encourage foreign participation, being worldly not a negative, particularly Britain and America, part of our global sphere. Of all the lines, this one may be best suited, because you can mangle reality, plenty of soundbites available for distortion. However, this type of focus also comes with a flip side, because Ignatieff also has plenty of written evidence to support his never wavering pride in Canada. More importantly, Ignatieff can be shown as a natural treasure, a Canadian kid made good on the world stage, a terrific export that we should be proud of. How many internationally recognized, "great intellectuals" do we have, you can spin this around.
On the flip flopper front, I'd say that angle is rife with powerful counters. So, the guys that did a complete 180 in the span of weeks, probably the most seismic political turnaround in Canadian history, have the moral authority to accuse others of flip flopping? That event, engaged Canadians more than any other event in recent memory, it simply dwarfs any other issue, in terms of public opinion. Do the Conservatives really want to rehash those events- you say coalition, I say no recession, no deficit, no stimulus. That's a winner? Ignatieff has changed positions, probably the carbon tax offers the best opportunity for the Conservatives. Funny enough, Ignatieff has been out front on this score since he took the helm, so that might serve him well, moving forward. We listened, yes we already know.
If the attacks start soon, you know the Conservatives polling shows big trouble, because now is simply the worst time to get overly partisan and negative. It would be a sign of weakness, not strength, because they've really abandoned their rational senses. Having said that, I won't be surprised, because in all honesty, things are probably going better for Ignatieff early on, than I would have envisioned when he took over (on balance of course, any negatives developing still just seeds at this point). The fact Conservatives are reconsidering their earlier logic, tells me they agree.
I don't sense fear, but I see fangs.