It is hard to know what to make of the soap opera saga known as “Patrick Brown and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario”. In the time span of less than one month, Brown has gone from the Leader of the Opposition at Queen’s Park and putative future Premier to disgraced leader, forced to hastily resign, to caucus pariah and Indy MPP to “Rocky” underdog, campaigning to take back what he believes was unjustly taken from him.
Conventional wisdom would predict his political demise as a surety. That in politics, perception is reality and where there is smoke there is fire or whatever other cliché bears the certainty that if voters think you are ethically challenged, they are less likely to vote for you. Fewer votes equals political liability and time to either take one for the team and resign or be put out to pasture.
The truthfulness of the allegations are less relevant than their believability. A voter might rush to judgement regarding the allegation and the allegation might ultimately be proven false. But political operatives are not concerned that voters might be impressionable or that vindication might some day occur. They only care about the immediate impression made on the voter. Conventional wisdom would guarantee an obituary be written for Patrick Brown’s political career.
But conventional wisdom is occasionally not wise at all. The 2016 US Presidential Election broke the mould on known political marketing. By any normal standard, there was no way that someone as unqualified and ethically challenged as Donald Trump could become his party’s presidential nominee much less his country’s president.
Trump’s entire campaign was a gong show and his White House a virtual Soap Opera—the revolving door of aids, advisors and press secretaries. Campaign Managers facing indictments, special prosecutors and nagging allegations of Russian interference in the electoral process. It is a political soap opera. Occasionally, quasi public policy makes it onto the cable news networks such as a shutdown of the US Government or some petulant schoolyard rant against “Little Rocket Man”, but that is all part of the soap opera and its star, Donald J. Trump.
The allegations against Brown are serious, not criminal, but serious allegations nonetheless. Conversely, conventional wisdom would dictate that Trump would never have survived the Billy Bush video, when Trump admitted to being able to sexually assault women with impunity. Not an allegation; an actual admission of not merely inappropriate behaviour but of an assault.
Yet he survived and against most prognostications was elected US President. The entire campaign was about character and character assassination. A bevy of Trump female accusers versus Hillary Clinton and thousands of deleted e-mails. When I think about the 2016 election, I vaguely remember Trump wanting to repeal Obamacare, while Clinton merely wanted to tweak the “Affordable Healthcare Act”. But mostly, I remember the vicious character attacks.
You had two unlikeable and challenged candidates, but the electorate had to choose one. The media was brutal on Trump, but they were always talking about him, and he won the election.
Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, one should not count out Patrick Brown. Political coverage continues to obsess on scandal and character. This week new developments and allegations have surfaced concerning free trips, party memberships, nominations and luxury home financing. There is little chance the leadership will focus on policy any time soon. MPP Randy Hillier is the new prosecutor. He alleges that Brown lies every time he opens his mouth; the same allegation is frequently made against Trump.
Brown’s stated strategy, generally, is to clear his name and be vindicated. But it is also an interesting political strategy. If he can continue to control the narrative, he can force Ontario PC members to make a binary choice regarding his character. Is Patrick a decent guy? Was he falsely accused? Do you feel empathy towards him? They are all comparable binary questions.
I suspect he will control the narrative. After all, this entire leadership contest was made necessary due to serious allegations concerning Brown’s character.
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that Brown campaigning for his old job will create a civil war within PC Ontario from which they may never recover. And that the Brown detractors and the Randy Hilliers will continue to pour gasoline on the dumpster fire.
But as Trump has demonstrated, there is no such thing as overexposure in political marketing. Trump would rather have the media disparage him than ignore him. To an engaged electorate, there actually is such a thing as bad press. But to the casual observer who votes, never underestimate the value of name recognition.
In the last 72 hours, I have not heard a word about Doug Ford or Christine Elliot. Meanwhile, try as I may, it is hard to avoid news concerning the ever evolving Patrick Brown soap opera.