Back­ing pres­i­dent may back­fire

Ottawa Citizen - - OBSERVER - AN­DREW MACDOUGALL An­drew MacDougall is a Lon­don-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant and ex-di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions to for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

Don­ald Trump is a dis­gust­ing hu­man be­ing, a stain on con­ser­vatism and a blight on the body politic. So why are so many Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives Trump sup­port­ers?

A re­cent sur­vey found that 25 per cent of Cana­di­ans ex­pressed “con­fi­dence” in the U.S. pres­i­dent. And while the sur­vey didn’t dis­close the do­mes­tic pref­er­ence of those giv­ing thumbs up to Trump, it’s a safe bet they don’t dig Justin Trudeau (or Jag­meet Singh, if they’ve heard of him).

Which would put them into ei­ther An­drew Scheer or Maxime Bernier’s camps. But what do they, as con­ser­va­tives, like about the Trump of­fer?

Is it the overt racism, such as when Trump re­cently called An­drew Gil­lum — the black can­di­date for the Florida gov­er­nor­ship — a “thief” de­spite no ev­i­dence what­so­ever of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour?

Or is it the suc­cour Trump gave to white na­tion­al­ists in the wake of last year’s Char­lottesville marches, in which the pres­i­dent found good peo­ple on “both sides” of the is­sue, de­spite one side chant­ing bla­tantly anti-Semitic slo­gans?

Or per­haps it’s Trump’s re­mark­able abil­ity to make ev­ery­thing — even the straf­ing of el­derly Jews in their house of wor­ship by a rad­i­cal­ized white ex­trem­ist — about him?

Maybe it’s how Trump chooses to in­flame, rather than calm, is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion, as demon­strated by his weeks-long pre-mid-term bo­nanza about the mi­grant “car­a­vans”?

Then again, it could be how Trump shows ab­so­lutely no un­der­stand­ing or re­spect for the in­sti­tu­tions he’s meant to stew­ard and safe­guard, as ev­i­denced by his mus­ings on uni­lat­er­ally end­ing birthright cit­i­zen­ship over the ob­jec­tion of the U.S. Constitution.

And then there’s Trump the man. A shame­less liar. A bully. A bad hus­band and worse busi­ness­man. What prin­ci­pled small-c con­ser­va­tive would want to taint them­selves with Trump’s as­so­ci­a­tion?

One sus­pects most have “con­fi­dence” in Trump for none of th­ese baser rea­sons, that the pres­i­dent’s boor­ish­ness is some­thing to be en­dured be­cause the al­ter­na­tive would be worse. In other words, it’s noth­ing more than a gen­eral affin­ity for Repub­li­cans over Democrats.

Oth­ers sup­port the pres­i­dent be­cause he cares about “their” is­sues — such as im­mi­gra­tion — even if the pres­i­dent demon­strates ab­so­lutely no care in how he han­dles them.

Th­ese peo­ple might not like ev­ery­thing about the pres­i­dent, but they ap­plaud his courage in rais­ing the is­sues they feel oth­ers ob­scure.

For oth­ers, how­ever, their Trump wor­ship is ab­so­lutely con­tin­gent on Trump be­ing a wreck­ing ball, and on Trump trig­ger­ing the “elites,” par­tic­u­larly those in the hated me­dia. As long as Trump makes this crowd an­gry, what­ever he’s do­ing must be OK.

But at some point, form has to mat­ter. And that time is now for Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives.

Be­cause Trump has swal­lowed the Repub­li­can Party whole.

It is no longer the party of Rea­gan, Eisen­hower or Lin­coln. It is no longer po­lite com­pany. Trump calls the ran­cid tune and the GOP dances. Pe­riod.

Canada’s prob­lems aren’t the U.S.’s prob­lems, at least not to the same de­gree. Nor is the way Trump talks of the is­sues con­ser­va­tives are wor­ried about de­signed to pro­duce a so­lu­tion. Trump’s sole tac­tic is to de­mo­nize the other and to widen the splits in so­ci­ety. It can­not be en­dorsed.

And the way Trump treats the press is an acid at­tack on democ­racy. It’s cor­ro­sive and it’s meant to in­crease cyn­i­cism and mis­trust, so that no one can hold him to ac­count. The press is a long way from per­fect, but its role is foun­da­tional in check­ing power. To throw it away is to in­vite abuse when the other side next takes power.

So in other words, 25-per-cen­ters, what­ever it is you think you’re sup­port­ing, you’re not.

And if you ac­tu­ally do sup­port this pres­i­dent and his aw­ful warts, you’re putting your­self with an elec­torally in­suf­fi­cient per­cent­age of Cana­di­ans. And with an elec­tion rolling around next year, that’s not a good place to be. Es­pe­cially not when the is­sues at play shade into Trump ter­ri­tory.

Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives need to rec­og­nize that giv­ing a thumbs up to Trump, whether tac­itly or ex­plic­itly, ac­tu­ally makes it harder, not eas­ier, to tackle prob­lems such as il­le­gal mi­gra­tion across our shared bor­der.

It makes op­po­si­tion to Trudeau’s planned im­mi­gra­tion in­creases on eco­nomic grounds trick­ier, not straight­for­ward.

Trump taints ev­ery­thing, such is his power.

That’s why Justin Trudeau is try­ing so hard to shove his op­po­nents down a Trumpian path.

Con­ser­va­tives tol­er­at­ing or ap­ing Trump give Trudeau the rope with which to hang them.

Scheer should in­stead let Bernier hoover up the true MAGA crowd and fo­cus on chip­ping away at Trudeau’s right (i.e. cen­tre) flank.

He should fol­low Ja­son Ken­ney’s ex­am­ple and dis­as­so­ci­ate from any­one who claims to act in his move­ment’s name by ap­ing Trump’s worst im­pulses.

The chal­lenges fac­ing Canada are too se­ri­ous to get shunted into a point­less de­bate over a pop­ulism that isn’t in­her­ent in Canada, and their sales­man, who is as pop­u­lar here as third place.


U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump smiles dur­ing a dis­cus­sion in the White House. A re­cent sur­vey found 25 per cent of Cana­di­ans ex­pressed “con­fi­dence” in the U.S. pres­i­dent.


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