When two tribes go to war

This morning’s post on the boss’s interview with Stephen Harper drew a lot of good discussion and some comment on other blogs. Enough of both that it’s time for an update.

Recall — or click the link above and see for yourself — that I was struck by Harper’s insistence on framing his next confrontation with the opposition parties, and not only his last, as a one-on-one fight between the Harper Conservatives and “the coalition.” That’s the game in the next election, I decided: Michael Ignatieff cannot run far enough away from the coalition experiment because (a) there is non-trivial evidence that he supported it (yards of scrum tape, his signature on a letter to the Governor General Herself) (b) doesn’t matter whether he supported it: the last Liberal leader swore there would be no coalition until he hatched a coalition. So who will believe his successor’s denials? Harper will therefore run as Order Against Chaos once again, only the Chaos will be the jumbo economy-sized chaos of a three-headed, separatist-tailed, Layton-in-the-catbird-seat coalition.

But it took The Jurist over at the NDP-friendly Accidental Deliberations blog to take my reasoning a step further: If Cons-vs.-Coalition is the game, then how do you play the game? Quoth The Jurist:

[W]ould the opposition parties prefer to be judged on Harper’s puffin-poop-grade caricature of a hypothetical coalition, or on the real results of a cooperative government?

Translation: If the guy who roamed the country warning of Liberal tax increases, recessions, deficits, industrial collapses and crime waves last time and won bigger than in 2006 is going to fly around next time with a made-up but credible list of NDP cabinet positions and Liberal-Bloc policies, is it not better for the opposition to go to the electorate with “the real results of a cooperative government” to fight those bogeyman tales with?

I think this is a really important question because mark my words, Harper will run against his depiction of a coalition government, whether the opposition parties want a coalition or not.

Then there is commenter SAB, writing way down in this morning’s comment thread. SAB writes:

The funny part about Harper’s comments is that it implies that if there was an election, that if the conservatives won a minority, that he would actually let the Liberals govern in a coalition.

And indeed it is so. If consistency means anything (a really big ‘if,’ ’tis true) then Harper cannot run on “coalition vs. Conservatives” before an election and protest against a coalition government after, if he doesn’t have the numbers. So, to borrow my terminology from this morning, the prime minister’s is a double-down strategy. He gets his majority or he destroys his career. I don’t believe he would have much problem with such a crossroads.

But now that Harper has tipped his hand, I think Michael Ignatieff’s life just got a bit more interesting. He was at the earliest meetings where the coalition was planned. He called for a coalition publicly, in speech and print. He backed his leader, who had backtracked 180 degrees on election commitments, to the hilt. You could look it up. Harper will deploy formidable resources at the next election to pin this opulent record on Ignatieff and make him the Coalition Leader, whatever Ignatieff wants to run as.

Knowing that, what does Ignatieff do now?

Hope you enjoyed your Christmas break, everyone, because we’re already back and the game’s already afoot.

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