Can Justin Trudeau handle a political brawl?

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House of Commons Parliament Ottawa
Gerry Nicholls
Gerry Nicholls

OAKVILLE – Editorial – 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?

Can Justin Trudeau handle a political brawl?

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.

 Gerry Nicholls

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Gerry Nicholls is a communications consultant and writer who has been called a “political warrior” a “brilliant strategist” and one of the “canniest political observers in Canada.” He has worked as a consultant in both the United States and Canada and was formerly a senior officer in the National Citizens Coalition. He is a regular at the Huffington Post as well. A regular columnist with the Ottawa Hill Times, his work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, NetNewsledger, and in the Sun Media chain; and he has appeared on countless TV and radio public affairs programs. He is the author of the book, Loyal to the Core, Harper, Me and the NCC