PHOTOS: Stephen Harper, as imagined during tonight’s TV debate. (Photo of Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore.) Below: The real Mr. Harper and another shot of the real Mr. Trump.

Now, about that debate tonight, the big question has to be whether it will help the Conservatives or hurt them when Canadian voters tune into the concurrent Republican presidential candidates’ debate by accident and mistake Donald Trump for Stephen Harper.

It’s not just the hair, either. It’s the anger.

Harper-RMr. Trump, presumably, is just putting on the rage because it’s an effective way to market to a generation brought up on his TV show, The Apprentice. As for Mr. Harper, it’s not nearly as clear if his fury is a branding technique or the real thing. A lot of Canadians are leaning toward the possibility it’s the real thing.

In other words, we’re pretty sure Mr. Trump isn’t crazy, although he sure sounds like it at times. Um, that’s it …

There is a serious view of negative political advertising supported by some evidence that while it is proven to be effective, some of the negativity rubs off on the advertiser as well as the politician being attacked.

This would suggest that a leader who finds himself or herself in a corner – and given the current state of the economy, the Conservatives’ supposed greatest strength, and the polls, that might be a fair description of Mr. Harper – attack advertisements that would be effective against one strong candidate could start to look just a little unbalanced, and possibly delusional, against more than one.

As in, “Everybody says I’m wrong! What the heck’s wrong with all those imbeciles?”

Trump-LMr. Harper – who seems to be pretty tightly wound at the best of times – has been running nearly identical attack ads against both NDP Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. They’re clever ads, but the second one, attacking Mr. Mulcair, reduces the impact of the first, attacking Mr. Trudeau. And vice versa.

Well, maybe this will work. Americans have proven you can barrage voters with an onslaught of attack ads and we Canadians are not really all that different, culturally speaking. But two at the same time?

If the Conservative War Room was any doubts about it, Mr. Harper apparently does not. He has, literally, doubled down with vituperative attacks on premiers Rachel Notley of Alberta, a New Democrat, and Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, a Liberal.

Both of those tough women responded immediately, Ms. Notley with a faint suggestion she’s too busy to waste time on such foolishness and Ms. Wynne all but daring Mr. Harper to make a fight of it.

Getting in four fights at once is presumably OK with the Conservative base – they’re as angry as the prime minister, and if you doubt that, all you have to do is read the comments under almost any political story in the Edmonton Sun. But what about undecided voters?

Now, there are arguments being made that this is a calculated strategy by Mr. Harper to shore up his base, and that could be. But isn’t that what supporters always say when a political leader they like does something foolish?

At what point, in other words, does Mr. Harper start to look to undecided voters who may not normally think that deeply about specific policy issues as if he’s gone so far over the edge he can no longer be trusted to run the country?

Will it be when he snaps during a televised debate in which the conventional wisdom is the best strategy for a serving leader is to hunker down and make no major mistakes?

Which brings us back to the original question: Is it good news or bad news for the Conservatives if Mr. Harper trumps Trump tonight?

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  1. I’m glad you included the cherubic, hair perfect – poppy perfect, version of Mr. Harper. Seriously, is that real or is that a rug? Who knows? Someone, somewhere knows. Not that it matters.

  2. It’s been clear for quite some time that part of the HarperCons’ strategy has been to pander to their base in order to keep the money coming in. It has clearly been effective: they have more money in the bank than the Liberals & NDP put together.

    But at some point, now that the campaign is on, they will have to shift their focus from attracting dollars to attracting votes, and that means appealing to voters outside of their base, and I’m not sure they have the capacity to do it. Might they end up being the best funded Official Opposition in Canadian history, facing off against a newly destitute governing party in the NDP?

  3. Actually the GOP primaries can be pretty shocking in the truth-telling department, shocking because it’s so unexpected.

    In the 2012 GOP primaries candidate Newt Gingrich made some stinging comments on US-style capitalism that you swore they must have come from Occupy Wall Street. For weeks afterward shocked Wall Street types were going on CNN, defending the virtues of their trade and pointing out they were just regular guys with kids, pets and bills to pay who gave whatever they could to charities.

    And then the other night during the GOP debate Donald Trump gave a commentary on the corruption of the American political system that is being descibed as “two glorious minutes of pure, unalloyed truth on national television” . Here’s a transcript:

  4. I wonder if Mr. Harper ever got the comment “doesn’t play well with others” on his report card when he was in school. While I can sort of understand the ongoing feud with the Ontario Premier, who also turned up the heat and said a lot of things about Harper when she was running for election a while ago, Premier Notley in Alberta seemed to be trying to have a cordial relationship with the Prime Minister. It seems to me the Prime Ministers enemies list gets longer and longer over time and I think this will eventually do him in.

    Leadership involves working together with others in spite of differences to move forward, not getting into pointless fights with everyone who has a different view of the world than you. This perhaps explains why Harper has made so little progress on pipelines or Senate reform. Harper’s rigid and often ideological “my way or the highway” approach on these and many other issues has made it impossible to move forward. While this approach may appeal to the base, so many reasonable Canadians will be glad to see him gone soon.

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