Sunday, March 01, 2009

Itchy Trigger Finger?

It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives have a negative onslaught against Ignatieff in the can, waiting for a moment to pounce. Ignatieff knows it's coming, and I'm sure his team has already considered methods of response. After all, mean spirited, partisan crap is what these Conservatives do best, it's their natural state, negativity their inspiration. One can't expect these people to run on their record, or their principles, whatever those are these days, so it's left to undermining their opponent, try to win by default.

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 St├ęphane 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.

UPDATE:

I don't sense fear, but I see fangs.

10 comments:

WesternGrit said...

Excellent post! Very good analysis.

Jim said...

Agree with all, but not so much your update.

I'd much prefer we spend our money on ads than lawyers - I don't like the sound of "we've got more of htis coming". MPs automatically get tax payer funded lawyers when they are sued - they can drag it out forever, while our party will be paying for any lawsuits we initiate. Even if their party had to pay their coffers can certainly afford it with us we need to allocate our money wisely.

They can argue fair comment just like we did for Cadman.

I think we should get out there with positive ads that address those 3 points. Is anyone going to begrudge us for "introducing Michael Ignatieff" to Canadians?

Quite honestly if the Conservatives had a half a brain they'd be thinking of running positive ads themselves with sweater vest Steve extolling all they are "getting done for all Canadians." It would be complete bs, but it MIGHT actually help them as opposed to negative ads which will leave them worse than over.

But I guess these guys can't resist the negative.

If they take the negative route I predict they'll fall further in the polls and Harper will be heavily pressure to resign and initiate a leadership race before the summer is over.

JimmE said...

Jim,
- As Mr K is a volunteer, & as he has retained counsel (as I think he should) it's his nickel not LPC's.
- Dion's prob. was he didn't retaliate, result-? The Tories' image of him was what stuck.
- Iggy's team has done a great job framing who he is in folks' minds - more or less for free.
- Voter's are adults, & expect some jabs in politics (forget what people tell pollsters) the trick is to have the attack dogs do it not the Leader.
- Great cheep reactions that turn the table can actually cost almost no $. Tories did this prior to the writ. Screen ads for the press, you get a buzz, then decided to pull the buy before they go to air. Presto, four stories in voters' minds: 1) Iggy subject of Tory low road ad's 2) Iggy hit's back 3) Iggy turns the table on Tories 4) Iggy's no push-over like Dion.

I agree with you in that we need to keep an Adult in the room, to insure there are no Beer & Popcorn or Green Eyed Kitten Eating Monster lines.

Obama won not just on Hope Soap; the Dems had a disciplined robust reaction strategy formulated by NY Senator Schumer. His mantra? "Hit back early & twice as hard" !

Lizt. said...

Harper is waiting for an election this week. Do you not think that Harper himself said many nasty things about our Country, while in the NCC, as well as the Alliance. He also says he is going to campaign in the middle where the
Liberals are, so he can get the Liberal vote, the Sneak

Michael Harkov said...

“We know how the Conservatives operate . . . We know that the Conservatives see negative advertising and character assassination as their primary electoral strategy.

“I have absolutely zero illusions about what's coming our way.”


Well, you shouldn't Mikey. Afterall, your party is only getting back what its dished out for years.

JimmE said...

Michael,
Wow! Think that up yer ownself or did ya haff 2 get 'ol buddy Baird 2 hep ya?
(spelt in fonix sos U kin unnerstan me)

burlivespipe said...

Oh Michael, you are so not giving credit where credit is due. It seems you forgot the inter-family feud that kept your ilk to the right fringes, then the 'shot my own foot off' of the likes of Randy White and Stockwell Day, to name a few. It's true, Chretien knew how to fight in the streets, but he never hit below the belt, never bought ads between writs to dish dirt on your leader(s) and never used a political debate to create a unity crisis. That's your (paper) tiger's take. Now the only stripe i see on him is down his back. Cut and run, wasn't that the lingo he pitched before?
Is there any long-held belief that you won't sell for a week more on Sussex?

Michael Harkov said...

Oh Michael, you are so not giving credit where credit is due.

Sure I am. The Liberals know how to take credit for anything positive. Negative? Well.........that is a different story, as always.

It seems you forgot the inter-family feud that kept your ilk to the right fringes, then the 'shot my own foot off' of the likes of Randy White and Stockwell Day, to name a few.

And that which is long gone history is made new again, courtesty of the Liberal party. Except, as usual, when its Liberal history that is being brought out into the light of day. Why then, that is different and thus the Liberal squealing and blathering commences as is happening now. Hypocrites, the lot of you. Nothing ever changes with you clowns.

It's true, Chretien knew how to fight in the streets, but he never hit below the belt, never bought ads between writs to dish dirt on your leader(s) and never used a political debate to create a unity crisis. That's your (paper) tiger's take.

Hmmm, let see. Chretien used his pathetic little "rat pack" to do his dirty fighting for him, used war room operatives like Kinsella to stage stunts on TV to mock an opponent you mentioned previously, while Chretien's party used stolen tax payer's money that caused seperatist sentiment to spike in Quebec. For you guys to constantly move the goal posts so conveniently for yourselves as to what constitutes "dirty" or "below the belt" is utterly laughable.

Now the only stripe i see on him is down his back. Cut and run, wasn't that the lingo he pitched before?

And how many times have the Liberals caved to the Tories on key votes in Parliament now? 40? Now Iffy rails against a budget he voted for. The Liberals "cut and run"? Every single time.

Is there any long-held belief that you won't sell for a week more on Sussex?

And there is ample proof of numerous instances where Liberals did just that in the last Parliament to avoid an election they know they couldn't win, because that is what the Liberal party is all about; power for power's sake. That never changes and it never will. If the Liberal party can't win they will compromise their core values and principles, as for example, with confidence votes just to save their skin, as they have on so many occasions.

The fact is, your side has been engaging in gutter, low ball politics, and using every conceivable dirty trick in the book against us for years. And now when the tables are turned against you, you wail. Well too bad children, you get whatever you give. Don't come crying now.

Joseph said...

Ah, the sounds of a more responsible adult government.

So the basic argument is Harper is a bitter bag of crap, but he's your bitter bag of crap so it's all just peachy.

Now that is the sound of responsible leadership around which people rally!

Can't wait to see the ads thrown up for public consumption.

JimmE said...

Michael,
While no politician is free from the taint of Ad Homonym attacks, the present iteration of the Tory party is founded on a lie "I will never merge this party with the Reform/Alliance Party" Peter McKay. Propping-up this bunch builds on this foundation & adds lack of memory, Ad Homonym attacks & half truth smears.
If you'd like to discuss history, perhaps use facts rather than Tory principles; Rat Pack was active during John Turner's tenure & went after Tory Malfeasance & ineptitude in an aggressively & rarely a Ad Homonym attack, however; they were subject to Ad Homonym smears & insults ("Sit Down Baby" John Crosby). As for JC he paid for a piano for his wife with the award from a successful libel suit against a Tory hack.
How 'bout Ad Homonym attack ad the Tories ran - that sunk the party? Does it still hurt to remember?
Who was it that started the Doris Day petition ? Hmm? None other than your 'ol buddy Baird's pal Rick Mercer.
How much of the settlement did your pal Mulrooney pay back after he admitted he lied? Sorry what was that?
As for STEAL'n can you name me ONE member of JC's government that was on the take? The system caught the crooks. How is IN & OUT going BTW?
The present PM has taken this all to a new level; never have Canadians been subject to such nasty Ad Homonym attack ads against an opposition leader, not to mention outside a writ period. All paid for, in part, by Canadian Taxpayers. Why not be a grown-up & run ads about all the Tory accomplishment, oh sorry, there ain't any.
If the grown-ups had been running the last Grit campaign, we may have had Factual attack ads about Mulrooney-gate, Cadman-Gate, In & Out, Overpayment of defense contracts, shutting down access to information, Income Trusts, or any other examples of inept Tory action; but hey, there's still time for all that. In the mean time why not get some FACTS & some stuff, then come back & play.