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Gerry Nicholls


Can Trudeau Handle Political Punches?

Posted: 02/27/2013 12:00 am

As Senator Patrick Brazeau knows all too well, Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau can duke it out in a boxing match.

But can Trudeau also handle himself in a political brawl? Can he take a 30-second TV attack ad punch? Can he mix it up and get scrappy when it comes to electoral fisticuffs?

Nobody knows, since so far nobody has even taken a poke at Trudeau. In fact, since announcing his leadership bid, Trudeau has barely had to bob or weave.

And please don't bring up the so-called attacks on Trudeau emanating from fellow leadership candidates Marc Garneau and Martha Hall Findlay.

All Garneau did was gently question Trudeau's lack of a policy platform, while Hall Findlay simply called him out on his "middle class" credentials. (An act for which she later profusely apologized.)

If those were attacks, they were mild ones, indeed they barely registered on my "Political-Attack-a-Meter."

Besides, what's wrong with leadership candidates comparing and contrasting their skills and background with those of the frontrunner?

It's an obvious and legitimate tactic.

At any rate, my point is since Trudeau has not yet been truly tested in terms of his political combat skills, we don't know how he will react when he does come under real assault.

And make no mistake, if he does, as is widely expected, become the next Liberal leader, Trudeau will be hit hard.

The Conservative Party, for instance, will do to Trudeau what they already did to former Liberal leaders, Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion, namely hammer him with a steady stream of negative attack ads.

Plus, since Trudeau could threaten its power base in Quebec and in urban Canada, the NDP, now led by political street fighter Thomas Mulcair, can also be expected to join the anti-Trudeau fray.

And, by the way, Trudeau gave his opponents great grist for attack ad mills when he told the media "I'm not middle class."

Expect the NDP and especially the Conservatives to endlessly re-cycle that comment, because by saying those words Trudeau is essentially admitting, he is not "one of us."

And believe me, nothing makes for a better attack ad then one which exploits the "Us vs. Them" theme.

But I digress.

Getting back to Trudeau, much of his success as a leader will depend on how he responds to the inevitable attacks that will rain down on him.

If he gets defensive, it will hurt him; if he loses his cool and emotionally lashes out, it will hurt him; if he does nothing, it will hurt him.

My own sense (and it's only a sense) is that Trudeau will fail the test.

Yes, he's smart and articulate and passionate, but he lacks the political savvy and toughness of Mulcair and Harper, two battle-hardened political warriors.

Certainly, the Liberal leadership contest, with its Marquis of Queensberry rules, will not toughen Trudeau for the coming onslaught.

Also, he has shown himself prone to undisciplined outbursts, like the time he told a radio interviewer he would rather live in a separate Quebec than in a Canada ruled by Harper.

And last fall, when his ill-advised comments about Albertans running the country came to light, his response was hesitant and weak.

None of this bodes well for Trudeau's ability to deflect attacks.

Now maybe I'm wrong about all this. Maybe Trudeau is a quick learner; maybe he's tougher than he appears; maybe he has smart advisors who will guide him.

But as of now, I can't help but believe that Trudeau's adeptness in the boxing ring will not carry over to the political ring.

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  • They Like Him, They Really, Really Like Him

    Justin Trudeau has captured the imagination of Canada's political media. Here are the 11 most ridiculously flattering things they've said about him so far this year.

  • 11. "He's got great hair"

    <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 10. "The man is genuinely, immensely likable"

    "Justin Trudeau does not shake your hand; he inhabits it. The wrist cocks out and up, the fingertips down; the elbow shoots off to his right; the shoulder rises slightly. Then a friendly grin dawns as he delivers a firm but not crushing grip, looking you in the eye, with a twinkle in his own. The effect is of someone who is warm, slightly embarrassed by the fuss, almost goofy, and genuinely happy to meet you. It is likely that some of this is practised; he would have spent his early social years deflecting other peoples' preconceived ideas about class and snobbery. Either way, it is effective. The man is genuinely, immensely likable." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>

  • 9. Sisyphus & Icarus?

    "Trudeau is part Sisyphus, driven by his nature and upbringing to push his political rock up the hill. And he is part Icarus, driven to prove himself in spectacular ways, whether by crossing rapids, speaking off the cuff about separatism or exposing himself to defeat and humiliation in the ring." <a href="http://o.canada.com/2012/08/17/electrifying-and-elusive-justin-trudeau-quietly-mulls-his-political-destiny/" target="_hplink">- Michael Den Tandt</a>

  • 8. Or Hamlet?

    "A leadership race without Justin Trudeau would be both Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and one more yawn before sleep." <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/16/rex-murphy-why-justin-trudeau-has-to-run-for-liberal-leader/" target="_hplink">- Rex Murphy</a>

  • 7. "Tantalizing"

    "Mr. Trudeau is tantalizing, but whether he is galvanizing is another question." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/justin-trudeau-is-the-best-hope-for-liberals-and-conservatives/article4249423/" target="_hplink">- Lawrence Martin</a>

  • 6. "He isn't an old fart"

    "He isn't an old fart. The Liberal party -- like the Conservatives -- has been run by, and for, old farts for too long. The party is in desperate need of a new generation of leadership. Trudeau, like Barack Obama in 2008, has the greatest ability to mobilize young people to work for him, and vote for him."<a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink"> - Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 5. "Expressive mane of hair"

    "You, with the expressive mane of hair and the explosive pronouncements that sometimes rival the idiocy of our other Justin, the Beeb." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>

  • 4. "His mane of black hair was tousled"

    "Under his suit jacket, the sleeve buttons on his dress shirt were undone. His necktie was knotted, but left loose over an open top button. His mane of black hair was tousled. Even in genteel disarray, even dressed more or less like a couple hundred of his parliamentary colleagues, the 40-year-old Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Papineau looked like a million bucks." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>

  • 3. "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined"

    "He's got more charisma than the royal family and Lady Gaga combined. In Ottawa, which is Hollywood for ugly people, that matters. To win, political parties need some sizzle with their steak; Trudeau has sizzle in abundance. On the election hustings, when measured against Trudeau, Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair will look like Angry Old Guys, because, er, they are." <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/06/16/justins-the-one-10-winning-reasons-why" target="_hplink">- Warren Kinsella</a>

  • 2. "Impossibly handsome"

    "The 41-year-old Liberal MP from the Montreal riding of Papineau, impossibly handsome, charming and much more comfortable in his skin than the bearer of such an iconic yet troublesome political name has any right to be..." <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/is-it-time-for-the-second-coming-of-trudeaumania/article4484207/?cmpid=rss1" target="_hplink">- Judith Timson</a>

  • 1. "Lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters"

    "So the rail-thin, lion-maned clothes horse with dimples like moon craters, a giant-killing right hook and a weapons-grade surname will position himself as the loyal helpmate of a post-leadership-fixation Liberal Party? It's so crazy it just might work." <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/04/justin-trudeau-should-be-the-next-leader-of-the-liberal-party-no-seriously/" target="_hplink">- Paul Wells</a>


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