If the events of the past few days in Europe make anything clear, it's that sucking up to Donald Trump is not likely to get you very far, except possibly somewhere worse than you'd have been if you’d stood up to the man.
But Jason Kenney, former Harper Government Cabinet minister and leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party, decided to double down yesterday and defend the efforts of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake UCP by-election victor Devin Dreeshen for his work two years ago on President Trump’s campaign.
Kenney used a news conference to introduce his two new Opposition MLAs from Thursday's by-elections to portray Dreeshen's eight-month contribution to President Trump's 2016 election as likely to be a benefit to Alberta.
"I think it's actually helpful to have in our caucus an MLA who can get people on the phone in the U.S. administration," said Kenney--suggesting, I guess, that Dreeshen, 30, can actually do that.
Kenney went to some pains to ensure we all understood that neither he nor Dreeshen actually support Trump's trade policies -- vis-à-vis Canada, anyway, if not the European Union.
"Devin and I totally agree with each other in our opposition to the Trump Administration's protectionism, particularly our opposition to his unprovoked tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry," Kenney was quoted carefully claiming in a story by the Canadian Press.
Dreeshen went even further in an interview with Lacombe Online, a community website in the region, telling reporter Joseph Ho: "When I was down there, I wasn't picking a particular candidate. It was just to see how the American system worked."
This claim directly contradicts the story in Vice that brought Dreeshen's role in the Trump campaign back into the public eye hours before the start of voting in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, not to mention his own previous words.
"Between February and November of 2016, Dreeshen and his colleague Matthew McBain followed Trump around the United States training volunteers, knocking on doors and even shadowing Ivanka Trump for some reason," wrote Calgary-based Vice reporter Hadeel Abdel-Nabi.
Abdel-Nabi, in turn, was summarizing Dreeshan's own boasts about his exploits in the service of the Trump Campaign in the Hill Times in late November 2016 -- published by coincidence on the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Hill Times article was headlined: "Inside the Trump Campaign."
According to Dreeshen's article, he spent eight months as a volunteer on the Trump campaign, travelling through 28 states. But by the time the 2018 Alberta by-election was called by the NDP Government, his involvement in President Trump's cause had pretty well disappeared, completely unmentioned in his campaign literature and consigned to the Mainstream Media Memory Hole.
That lasted until Wednesday, when the Vice story on the Dreeshen campaign appeared, complete with a striking Getty Images photo of the candidate wearing a MAGA Cap apparently hoisting a toast to Trump’s success at a victory party in New York in 2016.
Dreeshen is said to have run to the bathroom to escape Abdel-Nabi -- a famous escape trick familiar to avid readers of the detective fiction genre.
In defence of Dreeshen and the other Canadian conservatives who crossed the border to campaign for Mr. Trump, it is possible they never believed that as president he would actually implement many of the policies he campaigned on. This is presumably particularly true of the president's opposition to an international trade system created by the United States to work in U.S. interests, but which also by and large has worked in Canada's relative favour.
That's the trade system in defence of which Dreeshen now touts his not-that-close closeness to the Trump Administration as a benefit to Alberta. "To me, the fact that he is the president of the United States and I have made great contacts there, I think it's just a huge benefit for us."
But it's reasonable to ask what other parts of the Trump platform these Canadian Conservative activists support -- especially in light of the fact market purists south of the 49th Parallel keep complaining that beyond cutting taxes for extremely wealthy people the president isn't a real conservative. Is it the dogwhistle racism? The hatred of immigrants? The contempt for diversity? The climate change denial? The open admiration for foreign autocrats?
Or is it just tribal loyalty to an international ideological movement, even if it has strayed a little from its pure Thatcherite dogma under Trump?
Canadian conservatives who campaign in future elections for Republican candidates, especially Trump, are going to need to be prepared to answer these kinds of questions. For his part, though, Dreeshen probably needs not worry about tough questions from the Alberta Legislature Press Gallery.
Say what you will about Canada's Liberal Government, at least Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland recognize Trump is not a friend of Canada and are trying to act accordingly, in a cautious sort of way.
By yesterday, apparently, the UCP strategic brain trust had come up an answer about how to spin Dreeshen wearing a hat that would nowadays get him thrown out of a Washington D.C. restaurant. To wit: He's here to help us with Trump!
Trump is unlikely to be able to send a Tweet confirming his closeness to Dreeshen, however, until after Monday, when the president is scheduled to be busy meeting Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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