by Tim Harper

Federal Conservatives have moved with astonishing speed and depth in their repudiation of the Stephen Harper years.

Some senior members of the party now talk of the need for carbon pricing. They back the Liberal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. They talk of a national anti-poverty strategy, speak in more centrist tones and are showing Canadians a softer, more appealing style with Rona Ambrose as interim leader.

They are quickly putting the days of snitch lines and niqab wedge politics behind them.

And then there’s that obnoxious, misogynist neighbour downstairs, the guy bellowing late into the night, shouting out his poll numbers, playing loud metal and breaking the furniture.

As federal Conservatives embark on a national leadership race, Donald Trump is no longer just a distraction. He is a stain on a political philosophy, just as the Canadian right is seeking to moderate.

He is not going away, as conservatives initially hoped. He is almost certain to win the Republican nomination and the saturation Canadian coverage of his race to the White House against Hillary Clinton will only ramp up and act as unwelcome background music to a Conservative leadership race.

The Canadian right and American right were not always comfortable bedfellows, but there were unmistakable and enduring Conservative and Republican links. The Tea Party era leaked north of the border but now Conservatives must run from their brawling, cussing cousins.

Can they can run far enough?

The presence of Trump on the front of Canadian websites and topping network television news every night only helps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For Trudeau, this is all remarkably easy. He can sit at any U.S. venue, avoid direct comments on Trump, say he has faith in the “better angels” of U.S. democracy, vow to work with anyone, smile and having everyone watching him know they are watching the true anti-Trump.

One of the early victories for Trudeau has been his aggressive gender equality campaign, his self-proclaimed feminism that he links inextricably with progressive policies. He has challenged men to step up. He was given an award in New York for his gender equality and it has won him global acclaim.

While he was preparing to accept his award, an anti-Trump ad was in heavy play in Florida in which women read back some of the comments about women from the Republican frontrunner.

“Women. You have to treat them like s—,” recites one. “You know, it really doesn’t matter what (they) write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of a–,” recites another.

Trump calls Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly “Crazy Megyn,” still upset that she asked him tough debate questions, attributable, in Trump’s view, to the fact she was menstruating.

Wednesday, he released an online ad featuring Vladimir Putin and a Daesh fighter and Clinton barking like a dog, as if in response to the dangers.

Trudeau repudiates this with his actions. Conservatives must do it with words as well.

To her credit, Ambrose has said Trump’s voice would not be welcome in the Conservative party. She repudiated his “ridiculous” call to temporarily halt Muslim immigration into the U.S.

But the fact is, links remain. Republican strategists have worked on Canadian campaigns. Conservatives have travelled to Republican conventions and have studied Republican get-out-the-vote strategies.

There have been widening gaps between the two parties in recent years before this year’s chasm.

Canadian Conservatives, for example, assiduously courted immigrants, with electoral success in 2011. Republicans have repeatedly ceded the Latino vote to Democrats in the U.S. through a mix of rhetoric, failed policies and candidates lacking appeal.

The Republican car crash south of the border does have ramifications for the right in Canada, even if no serious potential Conservative leadership candidate holds views anywhere near Trump’s, whether on immigration, foreign policy, trade or the treatment of women.

They are in a box – trying to engage voters who have tuned them out, trying to provide a pragmatic conservative view in a country which has shown its preference for progressive politics, with a crazy American uncle reminding every Canadian voter how quickly the right-wing vessel in that country can come unmoored.

There seems to be a question for Trudeau about Trump every 15 minutes.

It might be more interesting to ask prospective Conservative leadership candidates about the man whose presidential bid once sparked amusement, but now sparks fear among allies. The distance between Trump and Trudeau is well known. The distance between Trump and Canadian Conservatives is more crucial.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

tharper@thestar.ca Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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