National Column: Canada, U.S. on different political paths

by Tim Harper

“It’s time to take our country back,” says Donald Trump.

“Canada is back,” claims Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The sloganeering may sound in sync, but the two men are peddling two diametrically opposed messages.

It’s now worth probing – now that we have actual votes, winners and losers in the U.S. primary season – whether voters on either side of the 49th parallel are also heading in different directions.

Trump, of course, took nothing back in Iowa, but is still one of five who could become president, joining two other Republicans, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and two Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie

What does this quintet tell us about Trudeau’s winning Liberal strategy, or a Conservative party searching for a new leader, or an NDP wondering whether it can go to the well once more with Tom Mulcair?

Anger still has its day: Canadians embraced Trudeau’s high road appeal and rejected Stephen Harper’s efforts to channel anger over niqabs or refugees into victory, but anger is still fuelling primary season in the U.S. Both Trump and Cruz have sought to harness an anger over a hankering for better times, when the nation seemed more powerful and the mythic American dream more attainable. But it is on the Democratic side where Sanders has tapped into anger over Wall Street, the corporate elite and the one-per centers. The American anger most often plays out before votes are cast and pragmatism enters the equation, so it may wane as the primary season progresses.

Outsiders vs. Insiders: Americans are drawn to those who appear to be outside the system, thumbing their nose at those backed by the entrenched party apparatus. Trump has made his outsider status the key card in the hand he is playing. Cruz may be a U.S. senator but alienates colleagues because he will not play by their rules, and Sanders sat as an independent socialist who caucused with the Democrats for years. He says he is about to beat the Clintons, the “most powerful political organization” in America. Canadians put their faith in the consummate insider, Trudeau, a man who may have embodied change, but was born at 24 Sussex Drive. As Trump learned, however, outsiders have to play an inside game with a proper ground game. If the presidential race does come down to Clinton vs. Rubio, then party establishments will have held sway one more time.

Age: The 74-year-old Sanders has turned a political axiom on its head, proving that not only youth will be served by youth. Here, Trudeau, his cabinet and his inner circle tout generational change. Many Conservatives believe they need a younger, fresher face in 2019 and one of many hurdles Mulcair faces is his age. Then how to explain how the self-described curmudgeon, Sanders, mobilized young voters?

In Iowa, 84 per cent of those under 30 who caucused backed Sanders. Clinton is 68, Trump is 69. A move to youth could spring back and it may be happening in the U.S. Some New Democrats believe Mulcair will be seen as the experienced, steady hand in 2019. A more salient lesson from the Sanders campaign for New Democrats might be that the Vermont senator did not move to the centre and remained true to his left-wing tenets.

“To God be the Glory:” Those words off the top of Cruz’s victory speech would not be uttered by a Canadian political leader. It reminds Conservatives here that Republicans must chase constituencies that need not be assiduously courted in Canada – evangelicals, Tea Partiers, those who want to build walls, expel Muslims and bomb every enemy. Conservatives here can campaign from the right during a leadership, as Republicans do during primaries, but ultimately in this country the next Conservative leader will have to tack far more to the middle in substance and tone than any Republican, even a so-called moderate like Rubio. There’s a larger lesson for Conservatives watching the Republican race. In successive elections, the ultimate nominee has been forced to move so far right to win the nomination, he was unelectable after capturing the prize. The next Conservative leader in Canada must resist such pandering.

The great gulf: If you listen to Sanders vs. Cruz, the political gulf in the U.S. seems intractable. Statistics show movement between the two U.S. parties shrinks with every election cycle. The divide is urban-rural and race-based. The swing voter is disappearing. In Canada, there is much more voter flexibility.

The Conservatives may have protected a 30-per-cent base last autumn, but Trudeau proved, in moving from the third party leader to majority prime minister, Canadian voters will move and that historic allegiances count less north of the border than south of the 49th.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email