In the National Post, Kevin Gaudet, discussed the qualities that the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada should possess. To him, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is as important as intellectual intelligence (IQ). He is of course right that EQ is an indispensable asset in politics. But I get the sense that what Gaudet has in mind for next party leader is an anti-Harper.
Gaudet was responding to a Maclean's article written by Conservative strategist, Ken Boessenkool, who, according to Gaudet, pined an even more for an anti-Harper. Again according to Gaudet, Boessenkool wants the next leader to be “young, female, and not from the West.” Gaudet was right to criticize this as a laundry list that would eliminate many qualified candidates essentially for affirmative action reasons.
To me, in looking for the anti-Harper, both Gaudet and Boessenkool are trying to refight the last war. They saw Justin Trudeau exploit Harper’s personality flaws – that Harper is an unempathic, unfeeling, control freak – and they don’t want that to happen again. Justin Trudeau won by being warm and fuzzy and young and sunny. They want some of that same mojo.
But here’s the thing they both miss: Stephen Harper is gone. The problem they are trying to solve has already been solved - by Harper’s resignation as party leader. The challenge now isn’t finding Mr. Goodbar, but positioning yourself to beat Trudeau four years from now.
How do we do that? Remember the Theory of Presidential Opposites that I propounded in my last column. Justin Trudeau won by being the anti-Harper. In order to beat Harper, we need to find the anti-Trudeau, not an anti-Harper to counter their anti-Harper.
But say, didn’t the last election prove that Canadians respond positively to Justin Trudeau? Yes they did. This shows that the Canadian electorate right now wants politicians like Justin. But the next election isn’t right now. It’s four years from now.
By that point, Justin’s good qualities will have become shopworn and taken for granted - just like Harper’s did after nine years. (If you recall, Harper is sober, hard-working, unpretentious, smart, competent, and thrifty.) What we really need to be looking for is somebody that can exploit those weaknesses of Justin Trudeau that will have become obvious to everybody four years from now. What are they?
Well we already have a good idea. Trudeau is shallow, facile, unread, unserious, and all surface – just like he was portrayed in the Conservative propaganda ad quoting Trudeau as saying, “and the budget will balance itself.” Four years from now, the budget won’t have balanced itself. To exploit that fact, the Conservatives need a leader with opposite qualities, so that the contrast with Trudeau will be maximized, and entirely to our benefit.
But what if four years from now, Trudeau will have proven that he has inner reserves of intellect and seriousness that we have not yet recognized? If that’s the case, he will win reelection - especially with the mainstream media covering his back. But even if this proves to be the case, our position will still be maximized with an anti-Trudeau at the helm, because all politicians, even good ones, begin to grate after a while. Exhibit A is Stephen Harper himself. And of course, if Trudeau is what he seems to be, he will be ripe for defeat – but only if we position ourselves correctly today.
But still, even granting all that, wouldn’t it be better if the next leader lacked Harper’s personality flaws? Of course it would. It would be even better if the next leader lacked all personality flaws entirely. The thing is, real human beings don’t come that way. Everybody has weaknesses as well as strengths. I believe history will conclude that Stephen Harper’s strengths greatly outnumbered his weaknesses. And just as in the leadership process that selected Harper, Conservatives will be choosing from the imperfect bunch of candidates who put themselves forward.
One of the keys to success in strategy is the ability to look past the emotions of the day and look dispassionately into the future to assess the likely situation (and emotions) that will be the case then. Therefore, in evaluating today’s leadership candidates, we should think about how they will do four years from now, and not today.