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"Harperland": Canada's Conservatives build their coalition

Macleans magazine profiles the goals that Stephen Harper's Conservatives have set themselves:

  1. "The immediate goal is to win an election.
  2. The longer-term goal is to settle Harper in for a durable transformation of Canadian politics.  Some of his oldest friends talk about a Harper era that would last a decade;
  3. Confirm the healing of Canada's legendarily factious conservative movement;
  4. Encourage division within the Liberal party and between Liberals and other opposition parties; and
  5. Durably transform the country's political culture."

Stephen Harper's coalition is proving stable, notes Paul Wells:

"Harper knows that for every voter who is implacably opposed to his continued tenure at 24 Sussex Drive, there is another voter who thinks he's been a fine Prime Minister so far. That coalition hasn't grown much since 2006, but what's less often noticed is that it hasn't shrunk either — it's turning out to be durable. For our purposes today it is better to understand the Harper coalition, not as a matter of geography (Quebec nationalists, Western reformers) but of demographics. Harper appeals, and plans to keep appealing, to middle-class and working-class employees, tradesmen, parents of small children, entrepreneurs, and military families and their supporters. People who believe they pay more to Ottawa than they are used to getting from it, whether in money, programs or respect. Harper and a few lieutenants — his strategic chief Patrick Muttart, his underappreciated junior minister Jason Kenney — have been thinking about and planning how to cement that coalition still further, and encourage its judicious growth at the margin."

The article goes on to look at how Mr Harper and his aides are studying Richard Nixon for next steps in coalition-building:

"Harper sets about building his coalition. Like his young chief strategist, Patrick Muttart, he is a keen student of earlier examples, at home and in other countries. And anyone interested in understanding what Harper is trying to accomplish could do worse than to pack some hefty vacation reading this summer: an extraordinary new book by a young American historian, Rick Perlstein, called Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

Perlstein is no fan of Republicans, but he works diligently to understand what they do and why they win. The aim of his second book is to explain how the United States went from a historic Democrat landslide in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson won re-election, to a historic Republic landslide in 1972, when Nixon did. Perlstein's main character "is not Richard Nixon," he writes. "It is the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason."

Nixonland, then, is a case study in coalition-building. It is about the art of identifying and wooing the mythic prey of all political strategists, the "gettable voter," who didn't vote for you last time but might the next. But Nixon was also a master at deepening the allegiance of his voter base — at making Conservatives proud and happy to have him around by identifying strongly with their preoccupations. In preparing for Harper's 2006 victory, Muttart studied Nixon's example closely. Both in the way he broadened his coalition and the way he sunk the allegiance of his base, Harper drew heavily on Nixon's example."


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