My good friend Brian Singh from Calgary published this in the Globe & Mail today. It is an excellent analysis of the Conservative Party’s strategy for ascendancy, and ongoing domination of the Canadian government.
There are clear parallels between Ottawa and Washington DC. And there are lessons to be learned about effective, sustainable governance.
Canada: Conservatives rise in the wake of (despite?) years of a strong and successful Liberal leadership, which presided over budget surplus (yes, surplus!) after surplus.
US: Republicans come to the fore in 2002/3 via Karl Rove despite the economic strength of the Clinton/Democratic leadership.
How did they do it? Brian nails it with his 8 Lessons. And with his indulgence, let me add my two cents.
By definition, underdogs are smaller, hungrier, and have less to lose. They have two paths to follow - leaderless/vacuous self-pitying petulance (the road to under-underdoggery), or disciplined, pertinent leadership. Examples of the former include the anti-gun and anti-immigration advocates, whose arguments are specious and whose policies will never improve things.
Then look at how Karl Rove transformed the Republican party into a consistent, relevant, and singular force of political might. He corralled people; narrowed their focus to a handful of clear, simple issues; and created a new truth (Republicans = economic strength and success). All of which led to a close race in Bush vs. Gore, and then a decisive win vs. Kerry.
The Democrats (and the Liberals in Canada) lost their mojo because their sustained success created too many wanna-be kings, excessive infighting, and through this, a fractionalized party whose leaders spent more time trying to one-up each other vs focusing on their Conservative opponents. (Similar also to the last Republican Primary.)
Like the US Democrats, the Canadian Liberals (with the right leadership) were able to coalesce and form effective and long-lived governments. Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien are examples of leaders who were able to achieve critical mass.
I defer to Brian on the first question.
South of the 49th Parallel, the Republican party is in the midst of a 3-way tug-of-war. Traditional fiscal conservatives vs. the religious right vs. the Tea Party. Each seems to “control” about 1/3 of the Republican representatives in Congress, and certainly each believes they are the only hope for victory in 2016.
Try as they might, they’ve not been able to win (or even unite) under a traditional fiscal conservative (McCain, Romney), in fact, they’ve been spanked both times, and from what we’ve seen of the Primary candidate pool, they may be in line for another spanking.
Successful gerrymandering combined with trumped up voter fraud-prevention tactics will almost certainly assure them of a majority in the House, but to what end? There is no emergent House Republican winner or leader; worse, they can only agree on one thing - voting against Democrats. Other than that, they are consistently an inconsequential, and sometimes destructive (last debt ceiling fiasco) Congress.
Like the Liberals in Canada, the Republicans are mired in pettiness and infighting - they lack a consistent vision and are unable to believe in their leadership. Unlike the Liberals (who are now the third party behind the NDP), their success in Congress means they don’t believe they are underdogs. If it ain’t broke...
The Democrats on the other hand have an anti-1% and anti-gun fetish that will doom them. Say what you will about the 1%, they got there by fulfilling the American Dream. Persistently vilifying them is not only moronic, it is destructive and hypocritical. It is equally naive to believe that laws will stop people bent on committing unlawful acts. There are over 300 million privately owned guns in America - background checks are not going to stop gun violence.
Bizarrely, I would advise either party to listen to Sarah Palin’s speech at the CPAC 2013. She crystalized the issues beautifully in terms of what it will take to win votes. Avoid politics, stop blaming other people, just focus on the wellbeing of the lower and middle classes - fight for them, and not against your opponent or within your party.
The Republicans should get over ObamaCare, recognize that eliminating entitlements is not realistic, and see that shrinking government creates unemployment, which further drags the economy. That is not to say we should inflate government, but rather to say that we should spend more efficiently. If they were really smart (and hungry), they’d stop the “we oppose everything Democrats support” line, and become reasoned, compromising people intent on public service. Imagine the change in how independents and liberals would regard them.
The Dems should get over hating rich people, realize that entitlements are not sacrosanct, and stop being so sanctimonious. If they were really smart, they would focus solely on, and trumpet job growth and economic growth. This would especially be effective if Hilary Clinton were to win the primary, as she could “take credit” for the economic positives in both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama’s presidencies.
In the end, I feel more optimistic about Canadian politics and government, where with the right leader, a Party can make a difference. Here in America, it seems that we are doomed to a House, Senate, and White House that will prioritize one-upmanship over governing.
To paraphrase Brian's 8th lesson - winning is easier if your opponent is dumber than you.