Saturday, October 07, 2006

Wells and Ignatieff

Apropo of my earlier analysis of the Canadian Liberal leadership results, Paul Wells believes that Ignatieff will take it, and argues as such in a recent blog entry.

(That an Ignatieff win would be an indirect bonanza to the Canadian right, who would get to shift the whole discourse rightward, was not discussed. Man's gotta eat, and Whyte runs the store.)

(Saying otherwise might also screw up his good friend Warren Kinsella's bizarre mission to help Stephen Harper in any way, shape, or form that he can, despite what would supposedly be ideological differences.)


(Edit: In comments, "Ben" points out that Wells did say something that might fit along this line:

I suspect Ignatieff will face Stephen Harper at the next election. Which means the NDP will have room to thrive; the new Liberal leader will stand offside his party's base on the central foreign-policy issue of the moment; and no attack against Stephen Harper for militarism or coziness with the Bush White House will hold water.
I didn't read this as having much, if anything, to do with conservatism as a whole. At least upon first reading, it struck me as more a tactical comment than one about the ideological discourse. An Iggy win would validate the center-right in the Liberal party, and it is precisely due to the inability to attack on militarism et al that things would skew rightward- Iggy would have to try to exploit that lack of difference to try to bleed away soft Conservative votes, and more importantly, all the conservatives that aren't part and parcel of a political party would crow about how left-liberals and the NDP are out of touch.

It's those conservatives who aren't partisan operatives, such as Wells' boss, that would reap the biggest benefit from an Ignatieff win, and it's those conservatives and those effects that struck me as being ignored in the piece.)

(Anyway, again...)

He points out that with the various and sundry non-elected delegates that are backing Ignatieff, Ignatieff has about 32% of the delegates backing him, and that means he only needs about 18% to win. Paul's argument is that it ain't that tricky for him to do so, because supporters WILL break off.

So Ignatieff needs 18 points' growth to win. That's just a shade more than one-quarter of delegates who vote for someone else on the first ballot.

So Ignatieff doesn't need anyone's endorsement; he just needs support to bleed to him at the rate of one delegate in four. And he's been getting that all through this piece: when Hedy Fry and Carolyn Bennett went to Bob Rae, they failed to bring all their support with them. In the normal course of events, Ignatieff can expect to lure one previously unsympathetic delegate in four. Which means he can expect to win this.

The only way to stop him is to interrupt the normal course of events.

One of the second-tier candidates (Rae Kennedy Dion) would have to turn this race into a referendum on whether it is acceptable for Michael Ignatieff to become the Liberals' next leader. And the only way to demonstrate that the whole campaign should turn on that single question would be to pull out of the race immediately and throw to another second-tier candidate.
Ok, we've already run into our first problem here. Paul seems to have forgotten that, yes, the race has become about whether Ignatieff is acceptable as the Liberals' next leader. As I pointed out, that's the reason why we haven't seen any kind of snowball effect behind the leading candidate, when we damned well should have at this point.

Wells is forgetting (or not mentioning) that thanks to his positions on torture, Iraq, and the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Ignatieff has now associated himself not with the Canadian right, but with the American right, most specifically with George W. Bush. Kinsella dodged around that reality by stating that Ignatieff was just obsessed with the Kurds; the fact is, though, that Bush is deeply, deeply unpopular with Canadians, and even more so with Canadian liberals, and the 30% showing reveals that this does indeed matter.

(I'll leave aside the folderol about who finished where in each province. It's inside baseball, more a function of organizing and exploiting the membership rules than electioneering. If you think Kennedy couldn't win ANY seats in Quebec, you're dreaming.)

So the first problem is that people are very much aware of the necessity of stopping Iggy, and appear to have already made that decision. Second problem- will a quarter break for Ignatieff over Dion/Rae/Kennedy? Why would they? You can't haul a number out of some dark, smelly crevasse like Wells just did and say "oops, clearly he's going to win"- you have to justify it. The delegates are human beings, a mix of party hands (who will stick with whichever candidate is likely to benefit them, and that candidate is NOT Ignatieff, bloated as he is with organizational supporters), partisan idealists (so long, George W. Iggy) and representatives of multicultural communities (who tend to be extraordinarily loyal to their organizers, and you get back to the "benefits" problem for the organizers.) Why would a Dion supporter throw to Ignatieff, precisely, when he has no financial or moral incentive to do so? Is he just going to throw up his hands and say "well, what the heck?" Hardly.

Third problem is simpler- why is it that Ignatieff keeps ALL of his delegates, and nobody else does? If a quarter of Ignatieff's people melt away, everything's evened out. If it's even half that, all of a sudden things start looking better for, say, Rae, or any other anti-Iggy.

Fourth, there's no good reason to pull out of the race in order to turn things into a "referendum", and in fact, Wells should be aware of that. Stop and think about it, Paul. If a candidate pulls out now, his supporters are just as free as they are during the second ballot at the convention. Their names are known, and they're easily contacted them. By pulling out, all you ensure is that the Ignatieff team is going to be working them for months, while your direction to go to various candidates loses any and all credibility with time. If you want control, you keep them until the convention.

And, as this lowly, pseudonymous, yet game-theory-cognizant blogger pointed out a little while ago, bleeding an inordinate amount of delegates would be absolutely disastrous for the candidates' future careers. They're not going to do that. Instead, they'll try to mitigate the bleed by directing their supporters to go to whoever they were generally going to go to anyway, and the group-think that you know will be in effect will take care of those who might relent. Ignatieff is not that candidate. It is, I believe, either Rae or Dion, unless Kennedy gets over the Quebec thing.

So the question is not whether they stay in the race (they must, and have absolutely no good reason not to), but how and whether they choose someone amongst themselves to be the Anti-Iggs. That'll probably be whomever Findlay, Volpe, Brison and Dryden pick, as the combination of the four will put any of the three second-tier candidates over the amount needed to start the momentum.

(Well, that said, Brison might throw to Ignatieff, and Volpe's mostly useful because his loyal base absolutely guarantees that you won't need more than about 45% to beat Ignatieff. So it's mostly Dryden.)

In any case, the sequence seems pretty clear. The lower-tier people choose. Ignatieff stays well under 50%- probably about 45% or so, as only Brison would possibly throw to him, and he'll lose some people too. Then the second tier guys have a chat, and decide on their man. The guy who wasn't going to win anyway--but wants to avoid the ignominious fate of directing his people to go to Ignatieff and having them tell him where to shove it--throws to the leading anti-Iggy, and his followers cheerfully follow suit. That leading anti-Iggy scoops up the next lowest guy, and it's a two-man race.

And, although I rag on the guy, I agree with Cherniak on what would happen on the final ballot if Ignatieff were up against a single candidate (Dion, naturally, in the eyes of Cherniak.) He'd get beaten, quite handily, because the other candidates' supporters don't want him and have made that perfectly clear. That's the hurdle that Ignatieff faces that Wells ignores- if he doesn't win by the fourth ballot, he's not going to, because the anti-Ignatieff leader will be decided, and he'll quite probably win. And I really, really don't think he'll get enough bleed to win by the fourth ballot.

The only way this doesn't happen is if a candidate has an inordinate amount of control over his delegates AND wants to throw to Iggy. I know I acknowledged that possibility, but who the hell IS that, exactly? Rae would never do so. Kennedy would lose enough of his delegates to look like a laughingstock. Dion is probably a little of both.

It just doesn't seem likely, so it's probably fourth or nothing, Ignatieff.

It's still quite possible he'll win, but Wells is being far, far too forthright on far too little evidence, and a whole swath of dubious suppositions. Here's hoping his new "Steve-o's gonna be the next Reagan!" book is a bit better thought out.

(Any regular readers wish to take bets on Paul's glib comment-thread reply? My money's on something to the order of "mmm, Ken's store has the best fresh sourdough" or some such thing. I always kind of hope that Paul's response is going to be "well, guess I'll have to ask my employers to do what seemingly every other publication does, and open up a comments box on my blog", but I suppose he's going to get sued by whoeverthehell is going to sue Warren for comments that clearly aren't his own, yet NOT club him over the head for being eponymous and glib. Pity, that.)

(Edit: Ok, I do have to admit that as descriptors go, "Eponymous and glib" ain't bad.)

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