|Trudeau: The Fighter|
Let’s start with the view of how Tom Mulcair behaved in the Munk foreign policy debate, from Gerald Caplan:
But if I remove my mask of detachment, I must report that it was not at all the night the NDP needed to recover its faded lead. But there’s still three weeks left – a lifetime in politics. We have the most polarizing and, yes, dangerous, government in Canadian history and we have the NDP positioned to take advantage of it. Yet the NDP focuses its attacks far more on Mr. Trudeau and gives the government almost a free pass. A huge mistake, in my view. And not too late to change, by any means. It ain’t over till it’s over, in baseball or politics.
And Caplan’s conclusion about Mulcair’s performance in the debates?
Each of his debates have proved disappointing, when they were supposed to seal his deal with the electorate. I fear the deal is almost becoming null and void.
The Two Big Dogs & The Kid:
This time, there was political blood in it.
That reflects the reality of all the political debates. They all had political blood in it.
The betting by most commentators prior to the first debate was that the order of competency in debating was clear: Harper was the Big Dog.
Then, close on his heels, came Mulcair.
And Trudeau? Most thought it would be a victory for him if he did not fall flat on his face while walking to the podium; once there, if he did not collapse like a squeaky and ill-tied birthday balloon; and during the one-on-one segments, if he could snatch a small portion of the air time away from the two debatemeisters.
What went wrong?
The main thing that happened to the two Big Dogs was that they underestimated the competence of Justin Trudeau.
Way back in January this year, Samuel Getachew got it right
Trudeau has the luck of being underestimated, like Jean Chrétien was, and the intelligence to turn to experienced people the way Pierre Trudeau and Lester B. Pearson did. Perhaps like all Liberals, there is the will to win in his blood. Given his family pedigree, perhaps the will to win is not only powerful but predestined. Yet if he achieves victory, it will not be just because of his last name, but because he works hard, performs well, knows his weaknesses, and plays to his strengths.
And Brian Mulroney warned the Conservatives in early October
of this same strategic blunder:
Speaking to the Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Wednesday, Mr. Mulroney said he believes Mr. Trudeau is a strong candidate who shouldn’t be underestimated. “He’s a fine young man, he’s going to do well,” he said. “And I’ll tell you: People who underestimate him, they do so at their own peril.”
He said he considered Mr. Trudeau’s father to be a “very tough, able man,” adding, “You know, the apple sometimes doesn’t fall far from the tree. He certainly has some of the grit of his dad, and he’s obviously got, as well, he obviously has some of the qualities required to win an election.”
The War of the Brands – The Fighter versus the Not Yet Ready Kid:
“Let’s be very clear. My fists will be up. I am a boxer,” he said.
Which brings me to the Battle of the Brands.
Trudeau has clearly won this battle. Harper spent a fortune trying to frame Trudeau as the son of wealth, without intrinsic judgment, and just “not ready.”
And how did Trudeau react?
By putting up his own brand against the Harper framing. And that brand reached back into his youthful days, when he started boxing. He burst out of the leadership gate with his boxing match against a bigger, heavier, supposedly better boxer. He trained hard; kept his counsel; and then whipped the man everybody thought would beat him.
And in doing so established the brand of Trudeau the Fighter.
Note that before every debate, the media gets the chance to see Trudeau in a boxing ring. That’s not just by chance.
Trudeau is reinforcing his brand as The Fighter every time he does this.
And it works in three ways.
First, it works for him. His stints in the ring before every debate shore up his own view of himself as a fighter. When he ran for MP in a riding that was not a Liberal stronghold, he fought hard. He did his homework (training). He spent time speaking to voters in the riding (personal research). He built up a membership from scratch, and kept it running like a well oiled machine (setting targets and dedication).
Secondly, both Mulcair and Harper had fallen into the trap that so often catches married couples in a loveless marriage: they cannot stand each other, but need each other to define themselves.
With Harper isolating himself from any real contact with real people (his almost paranoid meetings with pre-vetted party members; his setting limits to media questions; his banning other MPs in his party from saying anything in public except PMO speaking points; his performances in question period in the House, carefully scripted and supported by mindless baying of otherwise voiceless MPs), he is ill-equipped for any real debate.
And with Mulcair being the leader of the opposition, with the right to most air time in the House after Harper, the trap was set for both men. They fought each other, in the abnormal conditions of Question Period in the House. No real free for all debate, but set times on set topics. Mulcair relished this because he saw it as putting Trudeau in the shadows, and allowing Canadians to see the only two genuine contenders for PM in action in the House.
With every question period, the webs of the trap around these two men were spun tighter and tighter. They bought into their assessments that really they were the only two genuine contenders for the top job in the nation.
Despite the warnings not to underestimate Trudeau, neither Harper Mulcair took him seriously.
And they still don’t.
So when Trudeau the Fighter stepped into the debate rings, he surprised both men, and many Canadians. He fought. And he fought skillfully, with a rapid mind, a lot of homework, and a value system that was his own pathfinder in his political career.
He attacked, much to the surprise of Harper and Mulcair, who both expected him to know his place, wait his turn, and try not to fall flat on his face.
And when he was attacked, much to their surprise he counter punched, devastatingly and with great impact.
Harper and Mulcair expected to pound a schoolboy into submission with a few hard blows, and then turn back to each other as the main show. Instead, they found themselves outfought by the young man they had underestimated. Trudeau outfought them on debate content. He outfought them on debate style. He outfought them on debate preparation. He outfought them on debate sound bites. He outfought them on choice of battlegrounds. He outfought them on vitality.
And now it is too late for both these two, tired, beaten men.
. . . → Read More: CuriosityCat: The Debates: Who won, who lost, and why