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Poilievre Seen as Better Equipped for Trump 2.0

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The political future of Canada is hanging in the balance as crucial election season looms on the horizon. With Justin Trudeau’s Liberals sinking rapidly in the polls and the very real possibility that Donald Trump could retake the White House in two years, tensions are rising both domestically and abroad. At the center of this high-stakes power struggle is the Liberal’s last-ditch effort to define Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre as a mini-Trump, hoping it will save their floundering campaign. 

But their do-or-die strategy of smearing Poilievre with negative ads tying him to America’s divisive ex-president may end up backfiring catastrophically. Is the Liberal strategy of comparing Pierre Poilievre to Donald Trump an effective approach, or a risky gamble?

The Liberal Party of Canada has taken a big gamble with their negative advertising campaign aimed at painting Pierre Poilievre as a Trump-like figure. So far, the strategy does not seem to be paying off as the Conservatives maintain a sizable lead in the polls. 

With concerns growing about a possible Donald Trump re-election victory in the United States in 2024, the Liberals may come to regret chasing this line of attack if they find themselves out of government when Trump returns to power.

It has been clear for months that the Liberals have been working hard behind the scenes to tie Poilievre to Trump. They tested early versions of attack ads last fall and Trudeau wasted no time accusing Poilievre of following in Trump’s footsteps by allegedly abandoning Ukraine. 

However, the full-fledged negative campaign only started ramping up in recent weeks with the release of bite-sized videos circulating on Liberal social media channels.

These ads wield Poilievre’s own past words and actions against him in an attempt to paint him as a disseminator of fake news and radical ideologies. 

They also draw parallels between Poilievre, his Conservative party, and figures like Trump and Republicans in the United States. The obvious goal is to unsettle Canadian voters by associating the Conservative Party with the type of controversial administration seen under Trump.

However, so far this approach does not appear to be moving the needle. Polls continue to show the Conservatives well ahead of the Liberals, with some surveys finding almost a 20 point gap between the two parties. 

Poilievre is connecting with Canadians on issues like housing affordability and the cost of living in a way that eluded his predecessors as Conservative leader.

The Liberal strategy of using negative association ads against Poilievre represents a significant departure from their previous approaches. 

Rather than simple contrast ads comparing their own candidate in a positive light versus criticizing the opponent, these ads aim to tarnish Poilievre by linking him to controversial political factions like Trump supporters through subtext and implication. 

This type of advertising seeks to unsettle moderate and progressive voters by portraying Poilievre as embracing a divisive populist style aligned with movements many Canadians dislike. 

The goal is to turn public opinion against him by tying his image to toxicity abroad. However, this tactic marks an abandonment of Justin Trudeau’s previous pledge to remain above the fray and refrain from lowering political discourse, as exemplified by his invocation of Michelle Obama’s message to “go high when they go low.” 

Seeing themselves falling behind in polls, it seems the Liberals felt compelled to try more aggressive strategies regardless of past rhetoric. They are clearly betting this negative association approach will gain strength heading into 2024 if Trumpism intensifies its message as expected. 

Nevertheless, the pivot away from an optimistic vision and into attack ad territories risks undermining the Liberals’ claim to represent a less caustic alternative to their opponents.

While negative campaigns have worked well for the Liberals before, Poilievre seems to be a tougher target than past Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole. He has strong message discipline focused on the economy and has tightened his grip on the often fractious Conservative caucus. 

Merely associating him with Trump may not be enough to override these strengths or convince progressive voters to abandon the Conservative Party in large enough numbers.

As communications chief Max Valiquette takes the lead in implementing this strategy, the onus is on him to ensure the Trump messaging reaches the public in an impactful way. 

But absent a renewed optimistic vision from the Liberals to counter Poilievre’s popularity, these types of ads risk fading into the social media ether without leaving a lasting impression. A Trump comparison alone may not provide the silver bullet needed for a party seeking a fourth term in office.

Should the election be called soon, there are concerns Trudeau himself may not be the spark needed to reinvigorate Liberal fortunes. His charismatic appeal that helped power previous elections appears diminished after nearly a decade at the helm. The Liberals would likely need to roll out new policy ideas and showcase a fresh face to have a realistic shot at retaining power.

However, the biggest gamble in the Liberal strategy may come from their indifference to how a potential Trump re-election could impact both domestic politics and Canada-U.S. relations. Recent polls show Canadians believe Poilievre would handle Trump better than Trudeau, despite Liberal efforts. 

The October polling from Abacus Data provided important insights that challenge the Liberal’s strategy of linking Poilievre to Trump. While the Liberals may see associations with the divisive former US president as detrimental, Canadian voters actually see value in Poilievre’s perceived relationship with Trump according to the survey results. 

The fact that 37% of respondents believed Poilievre would manage relations better with Trump compared to only 28% for Trudeau hints that voters recognize some shared conservative affinities between the two men. 

As Abacus CEO David Colletto pointed out, this suggests Poilievre’s proclaimed proximity to Trump is viewed by some as an asset rather than a liability when it comes to navigating any future US-Canada issues under another Trump administration. 

Furthermore, Colletto warned that contrary to Liberal assumptions, a Trump victory in 2024 would not automatically improve Trudeau’s reelection chances. 

With Poilievre and Trump viewed as ideologically closer on certain issues according to the polling, Canadian voters may prefer a leader like Poilievre at the negotiating table with Trump rather than the more combative Trudeau. 

This stance contradicts the fundamental claim at the heart of the Liberal strategy to cast Poilievre as being disadvantageous compared to Trudeau in dealing with America under renewed Trump presidency.

Growing fears of a “Trump 2.0” presidency focus on the tension of a rematch between the two leaders. The personal animosity between Trump and Trudeau is well documented, and another four years would almost certainly maintain a rocky relationship.

This is where the Liberal gambit could backfire most if Trump does win in 2024. They will have spent considerable political capital painting Poilievre as a Trumpian figure, yet he may be the actual interface with our largest trading partner. 

And if the Liberals lose power, as polls currently predict, they will be absent from the table altogether when dealing with a Trump sequel in the White House.

The next few months could see significant volatility in both countries. But as some analysts warn, observers continue underestimating Trump’s chances of victory. 

If he does win and the Liberals are out of office, Trudeau’s anti-Poilievre approach may be remembered as a serious miscalculation that left Canada ill-prepared for the next chapter in the turbulent Canada-U.S. relationship.

For now, the Conservative lead appears steady. But cracks could still emerge on either side ahead of the next election. How Trump’s future plays out will be one factor closely watched by all parties, even if the Liberals hope to avoid addressing it directly. 

The Liberal’s negative campaign against Poilievre presents high risks with uncertain rewards. By amplifying concerns about Trump and associating the Conservative leader with his style, they have put the success of their strategy firmly in the hands of global events largely outside their control. 

If Trump mounts another presidential bid, as analysts predict, the Liberals are betting Canadians will see Poilievre as a liability rather than an asset for navigating renewed tensions with the United States.

However, polling reveals the opposite view is held by some voters already. If Trump wins in 2024, the Liberals will be left answering for wasting time and political capital on attacks that could prove counterproductive while losing ground to Poilievre on bread-and-butter issues at home. 

With their back against the wall, the gamble on Trump comparisons may fail to pay off, leaving Trudeau without a compelling fallback plan as the Conservatives solidify their position as a formidable opposition poised to assume power.

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