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Is it good news or bad news for the Conservatives if Stephen Harper trumps Trump tonight?

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Donald 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.

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 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 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 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?"

Mr. 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 Mulcair, reduces the impact of the first, attacking 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, 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, Notley with a faint suggestion she's too busy to waste time on such foolishness and Wynne all but daring 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 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 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 Harper trumps Trump tonight?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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