Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why Harper Wants A One On One Debate

I'm a bit shocked, the general consensus, that can't see any upside for Harper to actively pursue a one on one debate with Ignatieff. The Ignatieff rationale is obvious, one on one fits very tightly into our election argument, we relish any opportunity to narrow the viewer lens, "two choices" has always been our choice. But Harper, people seem stunned that he would agree to this format, when really if you look at the alternatives, it just might be the shrewd call. In other words, a one on one works for both leaders, for their own reasons.

Does everyone forget the 2008 debates? I recall quite vividly a Stephen Harper always on the defensive, the dynamics never in his favour, basically doomed from the outset. May attacked Harper, then Duceppe, then Layton, then Dion, just wave after wave of people going after the Prime Minister. When you consider that 2011 will be exactly the same, there is no other real scenario, then the idea of Harper wanting to narrow his attackers makes some sense.

Have you heard Gilles Duceppe? I have already stated, that this coalition question will be in the debates, it's a done deal, there is no avoiding. In addition, rather than Harper making the accusations, he will be subjected to Gilles Duceppe, a seasoned, effective debator, RIPPING a strip off him, calling him a liar, reminding Canadians of his own duplicity. Layton will confirm, and Harper will effectively be destroyed on this question, I really have little doubt. I believe the Conservatives know this too, they FEAR Duceppe, much better to just have a one on one with Ignatieff, wherein Harper can actually land a few as well, rather than continually fend off the onslaught.

When you consider the alternatives, the idea of a one on one looks less "insane" that first blush suggests. We have one format that is a guaranteed loser, made that much worse because your core scare tactic is neutered, becomes a liability. Where is the attraction for Harper in having this five headed debate? Again, did we all forget 2008, because he lost, and the format guarantees a repeat, just a question of how badly.

These Conservatives don't do voluntarily go off message, if they are getting aggressive on this one on one debate it's because they've found a "lesser of two evils". Sure, debating Ignatieff has risks, but that isn't a question in isolation, because risk is inherent in EVERY option. No, I believe the Conservatives are pushing, because they see relative merit, it's the better of two possibilities, he could actually WIN this format. This fact, in and of itself, has a certain logic to it- one option I lose, just degree, another I might lose, but I might actually best Ignatieff. Crazy, not all, cold calcuation and maybe not bad math at that.


Dan F said...

Liberals should like the one-on-one debate, and *also* advocate for a second series of debates featuring all 5 leaders. The more debates the better for Ignatieff. Harper will look like he's running away from them when he refuses. Thats the win-win

Steve V said...

Best case scenario is the two tier format I floated yesterday, 5 person debate AND a one on one. I think we might see that, if both agree, media will come.

rgl said...

I agree with Dan's idea, one I have been thinking about earlier - there should be two debates. One with the two leaders (gov't and official opposition leader) and another with all party leaders (including May). Great post!

Jason Cherniak said...

I think you're right about the logic, but it's still crazy. It means that Ignatieff won't have to parry on the left and share air time. Whatever benefit the Tories might get out of it, that benefit compares in comparison to the benefit for the Liberals.

Steve V said...

True enough, but I still say one format is guaranteed failure, with the real prospect of Duceppe absolutely destroying Harper, while the other is 50/50. Harper isn't a slouch, he will get way more time as well don't forget, cuts both ways.

Steve V said...

Harper seems to want this format, so there is obviously some rationale from his perspective, it isn't "nuts" or why volunteer? He doesn't have to bite on Ignatieff, the frontrunner always faces these challenges, and yet, HE DID.

ottlib said...

I would imagine the other party leaders would howl if they did not get their chance in the debate.

So, there will be an "all candidates" debate at some point.

Steve V said...

I think we will see both now, unless someone caves.

Jymn said...

I wonder about the wisdom of Ignatieff 'throwing down the gauntlet". Harper has a huge staff of propagandists who will have prepared Harper for every question to ask Ignatieff and anticipate every point made by the Liberal leader. Igatieff may be an intelligent man who can think fast on his feet but will he be a match for the debate infrastructure behind Harper in a one on one bout?

Christian said...

Steve V, I have read conflicting reports on this. Who brought up the one on one debate, if you know?

And as much as I love Ms.May, I don't think she should be included in the debates. She does not meet the set requirements, end of story,

Where do we draw the line? Why not include the fifty 'fringe' parties? Where does it end?

Steve V said...


We have just as much talent in our room as they do, if not more. I don't fear them, sheesh, who's one of the world's great intellectuals, let's not forget certain realities here my friend, a slouch he ain't.


We first mentioned it yesterday, then they pushed it today.

ottlib said...

This is a high risk move by Mr. Harper.

He makes Mr. Ignatieff an equal in all of this and cements in the minds of voters that there really is only two choices.

Mr. Harper on his best days is a wooden figure and he becomes even more wooden during the debates. If people see that and Mr. Ignatieff seems more at ease then it could be a big problem for Mr. Harper.

Yes he gets 50% of the time but that does not give him any time to regroup if things begin to go awry. It is true that with the four of them he gets less time but the other three can act as a buffer. This point also applies to Mr. Ignatieff.

Stephen Harper is a policy wonk at heart while Michael Ignatieff is a communicator. There is a danger Mr. Harper might get bogged down in details.

We should not overestimate Mr. Ignatieff's debating skills but at the same time we have seen Mr. Harper's. He is always up on his party's policies but he usually does not present them in a fashion that would inspire people to like them or him. If Mr. Ignatieff is as up on his party's policies (he will be) but he seems more at ease and natural it would be a long night for Mr. Harper.

Like I said this is a risky proposition for Mr. Harper.

Steve V said...

It is high risk, but so is Duceppe calling you a liar on national television and all you can do is turn red ;)

rockfish said...

The other consideration that we saw from the last debate was how there was no real benefit to the win scored by the opposition leaders last time -- they hit Harper over and over again, but the bump fizzed across 3-4 parties.
You are right, Harper's anticipating that the 'setup' gives him a chance because everyone knows its difficult to debate someone who's just lying -- the lies put you on the defensive. In the end i think this is all pr hype, harper has no intention of debating one-on-one, he'd be ultimately better served with a four-headed monster ganging up on him and securing some sympathy. I don't doubt that he'd usher in that Winnipeg girl as cover, the weasel...

Kirk said...

Harper wasn`t very good in the 2008 debates. Maybe it was the format but I think it was more that Harper doesn`t have a lot to give. Nobody outside an election likely debates or challenges Harper.

Remember how he asked for extra time to discuss the economy in the last English language debate? He didn`t have anything to fill the extra time he asked for, he just repeated `don`t panic`.

And there won`t only be a Ignatieff-Harper debate. They will have to be an opportunity for every leader to appear in a debate and there, if Steve`s analysis is correct Harper will still face the crushing accusations of Duceppe.

Kirk said...

Does anyone else find the Cons attack ad that goes "Fact. This election a vote for the Liberals is a vote for Micheal Ignatieff" profoundly dumb?

I understand what they are trying to say, Ignatieff is Satan and will eat your young if you vote Liberal but really it just sounds dumb and way over the top. Also, if Ignatieff gains during the election well where will they go next?

ottlib said...

That spot was just weird.

Dana said...

It'll work out just fine for Harper because he's not going to debate. He's just going to attack.

Nothing will prevent him and nothing will stop him.

Quotes from Iggy's old books pulled out of context, old newspaper shit, old radio shit from GB. Anything his goblins can get their hands on - including misquotes and manufactured quotes. They don't care. Once it's said in the debate no one will care when a retraction appears in the back pages of the paper tomorrow.

Iggy will stand there in disbelief looking lost and confused because he didn't or wouldn't understand that he really is dealing with barbarians who will stoop to whatever depths they must.

So...come prepared with all sorts of Harper quotes. There's no shortage. Come prepared to go about Harper's family. Come prepared to do battle with unprincipled barbarians.

And then waste no time hesitating before doing the actual battling.

Harper will die when the silver stake goes through his heart and not before.

ottlib said...

I cannot think of a better gift for the Liberals than Stephen Harper going to a one-on-one debate and launching personal attacks.

It is one thing to use advertizements to launch personal attacks. It is another for him to do it in person on national television.

All Mr. Ignatieff would have to do is act dignified while being attacked and he wins, big.

Steve V said...

CBC reports two debates decided, May apparently out as of now. Let's see if either leader pursues the one on one tomorrow.

Tof KW said...

ottlib said...
All Mr. Ignatieff would have to do is act dignified while being attacked and he wins, big.

To support your observation, anyone else remember the 2000 leaders debate when Stockwell Day called Chretien a child porn felon supporter (or something to that effect, can't remember his exact words) because the feds were not getting involved in a high-profile child porn case before the BC courts? Dingbat Day obviously never heard of the separation between the legislature and the judiciary, but that's beside the point. Thing is Day's comments made the Reformers look like reactionary rednecks. Libs could only dream that Harper would do something as stupid if his legendary temper ever came unglued.

BTW - Chretien held back and remained dignified, but you could tell from the look on his face that he'd loved to have given Day his famous Hull-headlock.

Dana said...

It's a different Canada now.

Once upon a time would any of us have believed that the kind of clumsy, primitive attack ads that the Cons produce could possibly work? No, most of us believed that the Canadian people were much too intelligent, much too sophisticated for those kinds of attacks to gain any traction.

*Those* Canadian people have given up and pay no attention to politics anymore. They decided merely *surviving* well was the best revenge.

The Canadian people we now have to contend with are strung out on reality television and they think an election is little more than a version of Survivor where everybody gets to vote.

They're a little unsure of who the sponsor of the show is but they're pretty sure they don't like the tall guy with the vocabulary - not that many of them have the word vocabulary at their greasy fingertips.

They're not that crazy about the little guy with the frozen hair,
the glasses and the bad suits but at least he doesn't make them feel like maybe they're stupid or something. Plus he reminds them of grandma so that's nice (except for grandma's nasty judgmental side but we don't speak ill of the dead in this house mister).

The bald guy seems OK but he's got that grin like the time share salesman in Puerto Vallarta and look how well that worked out. Jeez, we almost didn't get off that boat did we Mavis?

I don't think the Canada we all used to like to tell ourselves we believed in exists anymore. Really, truth to tell, I don't think it ever really did.

Where we are now is where we've always been.

Except now there are more people who don't see the point of it all.

All things considered it's hard to argue with that.

rockfish said...

So as i predicted, Harper's offer was a faux accompli -- maclean's wells reported tonight that when the consortium put down 2 4-leader debates (one in english, one in french) and an added 1-on-1 debate, Ignatieff agreed. Harper proposed that he'd do the 1-on-1 only if one of the 4-leader debates (the english one, likely) was eliminated.
Ignatieff declined.
As to all the ads that target Ignatieff, the CONs believe their work at decimating MI's appeal across the board has worked so well that they don't even refer to the Loyal opposition by party name without prefacing it with 'Ignatieff'. Harper's doing it himself on the stump. It must be written in big block letters for him. Hopefully his warm performance in the past week will thaw some of those voters, along with MI's policy pronouncements (great score by stealing the NdP seniors plank, by the way)...

Shiner said...

Iggy's numbers are already on the rise according to Nanos. The real Ignatieff is a different man from the one presented in the Conservative ads, as many of us, Steve V included, suggested going into the election. The Libs need to get Ignatieff as much face time as possible.

Tof KW said...

rockfish said...
So as i predicted, Harper's offer was a faux accompli...

Might I suggest the LPC war-room quickly adopt this bloggers advice:

LPC: Get Ads Ready NOW For When Harper Pussies Out of 1:1 Debate

I suggest ads with images of chickens, lots of chickens!

17 said...

Challenge a debate, then turtle.
... that's a miscue.

What do you mean we have a volunteer being investigated by the rcmp? It's a previous aide?
... that's a miscue

Get called out on our coalition fear-mongering.
... that's a miscue

Get called out on our bogus fighter jet numbers.
... that's a miscue

Steve V said...

So as i predicted, Harper's offer was a faux accompli...

Not exactly, they PUSHED for the one on one debate, so it still suggests a preference. However, we wisely pushed for one on one on top and they weren't prepared for more debates. I will say this, it's blow up in Harper's face big time.