Years ago, when I wrote for the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen and the like, media folks still had expense accounts. We would gather at a local canteen, dissect the latest bit of political skullduggery and charge our beneficent corporate overlords.
So when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared he intended to “roll the dice” with the Constitution, we figured he couldn’t possibly mean that. Because actually rolling the dice with a nation’s supreme statute would be utterly reckless and irresponsible, and would have the potential to destroy that nation. So it couldn’t possibly be that. No way.
Therefore, we would assume some grand strategy was at work. Mulroney was being diabolically clever and putting the premiers on notice. Or he was being Machiavellian and attempting to stampede the opposition onto his side of the argument. Or … whatever. (The expense accounts would get strained at this point.)
And when, mid-campaign in 2015, Stephen Harper abruptly stopped talking about his main political strength (the economy), and started talking about an issue that absolutely no one else was talking about (the hijab), lots of media folks thought the then-Conservative leader knew something the rest of us didn’t. The economy is the main concern of millions of Canadians and wearing of a hijab in a lineup had come up just twice in the preceding months.
But Harper is a strategic genius, some thought, he knows what he’s doing.
Well, no. It was knuckle-dragging, dog-whistle politics of the worst kind. It was pathetic and desperate. It was, in fact, a complete repudiation of every previous effort Harper and right-hand man Jason Kenney had made to win support with new Canadians. It was like holding a grenade, pulling the pin and saying, just before blowing oneself to smithereens, “Canadians will greatly admire the bold and decisive move I’m about to make.”
Which brings us, in a circuitous fashion, to Donald (“Diaper”) Trump Jr.
(Back in his days at the University of Pennsylvania, the younger Donald was apparently renowned as the Big Drunk on Campus. A classmate, Scott Melker, recounted on Facebook: “Donald Jr. was a drunk on campus. Every memory I have of him is of him stumbling around the campus, falling over or passing out in public, with his arm in a sling from injuring himself while drinking. His nickname was ‘Diaper Don’ because of his tendency to falls asleep in other people’s beds and urinate. I always felt terrible for him.”)
Recently, Trump Jr. was being hounded by the ink-stained wretches at the New York Times. They were onto a story that Junior – aided and abetted by his brother-in-law and his father’s top campaign boss – met with Russian operatives in June 2016 to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
The Times didn’t have the documentary proof, however. They just had dribs and drabs from three anonymous sources. Trump Jr. and the geniuses at the White House offered up a variety of explanations for the meeting, none of which made sense and none of which were actually true. But it was still Trump Jr., on the record, versus three anonymous sources, largely off the record. It was a plausibly deniable position, because there was no paper proof.
So what did Junior do?
He gave the media proof.
Ho ho ho, the Trumpkins crowed. Donny showed the Deep State! He stole the scoop away from the Times! He went first and owned the news cycle! He defined the story before it could be defined! He’s a genius!
Trump Jr. gave the media the entire email exchange between himself and some crypto-Soviet sleaze, who told him: “This sensitive information is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Upon receiving this “sensitive information” from the Kremlin, did Trump Jr. go to the feds to report a possible crime? Did he notify the media and summarily condemn it? Did he take steps to protect his father, then trailing Clinton in the polls?
No. He cheerily went to the meeting, at Trump Tower, and he helpfully brought along his brother-in-law (who now works at the White House, and is under criminal investigation, because Russia) and the top campaign boss (who is now registered as a pro-Russia lobbyist and is also under criminal investigation, because Russia). And, three days later, the hacked Clinton campaign emails started to spill out.
The general consensus is that Trump Jr. has now handed Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing all of this Trump-Russia stuff, the proverbial smoking gun. He has offered the proof that no one previously had: namely, that President Trump – and his family and most-senior campaign operatives – knowingly and maliciously conspired with Russia to cheat and steal the election from Clinton.
Sometimes, there is no grand strategy. Sometimes, there is no diabolically-clever tactic being deployed. Sometimes, it simply is what it looks like.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.