OTTAWA -- Justin Trudeau was just four months old when a sitting United States president pegged him for high political office.
"Tonight we'll dispense with the formalities. I'd like to toast the future prime minister of Canada: to Justin Pierre Trudeau," Richard Nixon, who presided over the bete noire of American presidencies, said at a post-gala buffet in April 1972 during a state visit to Ottawa.
According to a contemporary news wire report, Trudeau's father Pierre, then nearing the end of his first four-year Liberal mandate as prime minister, responded that should his first-born son — born on Christmas Day 1971 — ever become Canada's leader, "I hope he has the grace and skill of the president."
The anecdote says less about the current federal Liberal party leader's prime ministerial worthiness than it does about a life lived in the spotlight.
Today, Justin Pierre James Trudeau is taking his first crack at fulfilling Nixon's prophecy, and there's a certain symmetry in that he's attempting to replace Stephen Harper, a prime minister described as "almost Nixonian" by Harper's own former chief of staff Tom Flanagan.
Sunny, approachable, sometimes too quick with a quip, relaxed in front of a camera and publicly eschewing the dark political arts — Trudeau is presenting himself as the open-book antidote to a decade of flinty, guarded Conservative governance.
Having lived much of his 43 years in the public eye, Trudeau needs little introduction to Canadians. He's the first to recognize the downside.
The Trudeau name is like a magnet, attracting or repelling depending on one's political polarity.
"The association with my father was never a reason for me to get into politics," Trudeau wrote last year in his memoir, "Common Ground."
"It was, rather, a reason for me to avoid entering the political arena."
Fate and family fame kept pushing Trudeau into the public sphere.
His youngest brother Michel's death in a B.C. avalanche in 1998 made him a spokesman for avalanche safety. His eulogy at his father's nationally televised funeral two years later further galvanized the attention.
Acutely aware of the perception of political entitlement, Trudeau entered politics in the gritty Montreal riding of Papineau, where he defeated the Bloc Quebecois incumbent to become an MP in 2008.
Along the way, Trudeau learned he was a natural at the glad-handing and baby kissing of retail politics, unlike his distant, ascetic father.
"I wasn't at all my father's son," he wrote in his memoir. "I was Jimmy Sinclair's grandson."
James Sinclair, whose daughter Margaret married 51-year-old Pierre when she was just 22, was a federal minister in Liberal governments of the 1950s and represented a Vancouver riding for 18 years.
Trudeau added public pugilist to his resume in March 2012 when he punched the lights out of Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau, an imposing figure with martial arts and military training, in a charity boxing match. In the strange alchemy of leadership politics, the three-round bout made Trudeau a contender.
A year later it was a Liberal coronation when Trudeau won the leadership on the first ballot in April 2013, the sixth party leader in seven years.
He's been finding adoring crowds — and a buzzsaw of Conservative sneers, NDP eye-rolling and skeptical media squinting — ever since.
Too young. Too inexperienced. Too glib. Too rich. Too carefree.
He volunteered that he'd accepted speaking fees, including from charitable organizations, while serving as an MP — an acknowledgment for which he was pilloried.
He said he'd smoked pot, also as an MP, for which he was lampooned.
He joked — publicly and ill-advisedly — about Russian aggression in Ukraine, dictatorial Chinese efficiency and phallic CF-18 fighter jets, sending his opponents into paroxysms of outraged I-told-you-so's.
But Trudeau has also made a number of tough calls that too few of his detractors credit.
He spiked any talk of a Liberal long-gun registry revival during his leadership campaign, a decision greeted with suspicion by friend and foe alike.
He came out hard and early against Quebec's charter of values while others were still sticking a wet finger in the wind.
He ordered Liberal MP expenses be put online for public viewing, booted Liberal senators from the party caucus, expelled two of his MPs following sexual harassment allegations and moved decisively to derail the influence and electoral hopes of some old-school, bare-knuckle Liberal brawlers.
Trudeau has also attracted a roster of candidates with impressive credentials, from aboriginal leaders to Canadian Forces officers, international journalists and business leaders.
"It's a sign of weakness and insecurity — not strength — if the best person you can enlist in your cause is the person you see in the mirror in the morning," he wrote in his memoir.
He likes to say his campaign bid is based on platform and team, not name recognition — "the equivalent of a reunion tour for an aging rock band," he wrote — or presidential prophecy.
Besides, who wants an endorsement from Richard Nixon?
— With files from Alexander Panetta in Washington
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