So, Thomas Mulcair has been chosen by the New Democratic Party to succeed Jack Layton as leader.
There are many questions surrounding Mulcair's leadership. Can he bring the party together after a leadership race? How will he balance reaching out to centrist voters while staying true to the NDP's social democratic values?
But the first question that comes to my mind: How will the Conservatives label him?
(And it's not just me. Both the Conservatives and Liberals released statements trying to frame public opinion on Mulcair minutes before he was officially declared leader.)
An effective branding machine
Regardless of your political views, if you consider yourself in any way a student of politics, you have to give credit to the Conservative Party: They have been incredibly effective in defining their opponents for the public before their opponents have a chance to define themselves.
First, they defined Stéphane Dion as an ineffectual wimp:
He didn't last too long. Up next was Michael Ignatieff, effectively portrayed as a carpetbagger who was only interested in personal glory:
They've even started a pre-emptive attack against still-interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, just in case he does end up with the permanent job:
Of course, many people find the Conservative attacks incredibly cynical and disgusting (Andrew Coyne sounds like he's about to throw up while writing about it here) and the kind of thing that makes a lot of average people unable to stand politics or politicians. But you can't argue with success, can you? (...can you?)
Now Mulcair, as the new Leader of the Official Opposition, is the new chief rival to Prime Minister Harper and his government.
So what label will they use? I can think of a few possibilities off the top of my head...
Mulcair used to be a Quebec Liberal Party cabinet minister under Jean Charest (himself a man who switched parties). There are even allegations he once approached the Conservatives about joining in exchange for a cabinet position. So his commitment to the social democratic ideals of the NDP have been questioned. Could this be spun into a "man with no convictions that you can't trust" narrative by the Conservatives? Looks like that will be at least part of the strategy: according to the CBC, the term "
political opportunist" was one of the ways the Conservatives described Mulcair in their initial news release criticizing him as leader.)
Coddler of Coaltions and Separatists
Mulcair, like other NDP MPs at the time, supported the 2008 effort between the Liberals and the New Democrats to form a coalition government, with the tacit support of the Bloc Québécois. The Conservatives effectively branded that as a couple of losing parties trying to seize power with the help of disloyal separatists. They've gotten some good mileage out of it. Might they try to flog that horse again?
Mulcair has a reputation for being exceedingly arrogant and having a terrible temper. It strikes me as a risky strategy, but the Conservatives may choose to brand him as someone without the sober-headed temperment expected of a prime minister.
And then of course there's that old chestnut...
Share your thoughts and videos
You know, the Conservatives have been working so hard at this stuff for the past several years. They must be tuckered out. Why don't we give them a hand? It's the least we could do after all those TV and internet ads the Conservative war room has treated us to over the past five years or so.
I'd like us to have a kind of contest on this. I would like people to share what label they think the Conservatives will choose against Mulcair. And if there are any creative types, I'd really appreciate seeing people's best impressions of a Conservative-style Mulcair attack ad (bonus points if you can emulate the either dramatic or goofy music often in Conservative negative ads). Share your thoughts and video links below. If I get enough, I'll highlight the best ones in subsequent posts. Maybe I'll even award a prize (nothing monetary. We're a publicly-funded broadcaster, after all. Your prize would simply be public recognition of a job well done and the chance that it will be on TV during an Agenda broadcast).
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