With Labor Day in the background, Virginia politicos turn inward once more to focus on their legislative elections – and once more they may miss the bigger stories going on around them.
We start up north – the Great White North, to be exact – with the upcoming Canadian election (October 21). Six months ago, the incumbent Liberal government was floundering under accusations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was improperly influencing his Justice Ministry to help a Liberal-friendly contracting firm avoid prosecution. As I noted back then , Trudeau’s attempt to deflect the scandal was a potential boon to Trump:
At first glance, Trudeau’s excuse may seem more policy-driven than Trump’s. First glances can be deceiving though. In both cases, the national leaders are using the economy as a cover for stopping legal proceedings that would hurt their political prospects. They are both hoping their voters and their intra-party allies focus not on the damage done to the rule of law but rather the supposedly noble goals they were pursuing while doing the damage.
In the time since then, Trudeau and his party have recovered, at least partially, by shifting the discussion from SNC-Lavalin (the firm in question) to a slew of social and ideological issues where the opposition Conservatives don’t hold the majority ground. While there is still over a month and a half until the election itself, the direction of travel is pointing towards another Liberal victory. Washington will notice if the guy with the whiff of scandal can manage to keep the top job by changing the subject.
As if that’s not enough, Great Britain might see another election – before Canada. Barring the very unforeseen, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to limit his parliamentary foes with a Queen’s Speech prorogation will hit the skids this evening (you call follow events via the Telegraph  here).
Johnson doesn’t have corruption issues, but he is leading a very polarizing government, determined to deliver the 2016 command from the voters to leave the European Union, come what may. His staff is telling anyone who will listen that there will be an election on October 14 if parliament tries to stop him. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, he needs 2/3 of the House of Commons to agree, but so long as that date remains in place, he’ll get that 2/3 (an attempt to push the election date beyond the 31st would not do so well).
Assuming there is a British election, Johnson will almost certainly run the type of People vs. the Establishment campaign that Trump thinks is his bread and butter. The fact that Johnson arguably would stand for an actual majority (52 percent of the British voters backed Leave in the 2016 referendum) will be beside the point to Trump. If Johnson can pull it off, it would certainly be taken by Trump as a sign to move his double-down on his “signature issues” (protectionism, isolationism, and IMHO racism) into a triple-down.
Again, though, Canada’s election will be the latter one – and it’s also demanded by law, so it’s certain to happen. Whatever the result in the United Kingdom, should Trudeau manage to win, it will tell the consultant class around Trump what a Johnson victory would tell Tump himself: emotional issues count more than concerns over any actual policy matters. Moreover, one could argue that SNC-Lavalin and Trudeau are a better example for Trump’s situation with the American people than Johnson’s – say what you will about “Boris,” corruption is not among his political problems.
In 2015, Stephen Harper paired a solid Conservative record in office with terrible personal ratings. Justin Trudeau crushed him with a message of change. It was – or at least should have been – a harbinger of 2016 here. If Trudeau can spin himself clear to re-election despite SNC-Lavalin, that could – or at least should – be a reminder that Trump still has a scorched-earth path to victory.
He and his campaign will certainly treat it as such.