Doug Ford is like a deep-ocean fish. His campaign has no bones and its shape is only held together by the sheer force of water pressure—in this case, Ontario’s comical level of hatred for premier Kathleen Wynne. The minute he meets the open air, he’ll collapse into a shuddering mound of goo.
This, presumably, is part of Ford’s rationale for keeping journalists at arm’s length by axing his campaign media bus. It’s not the worst idea in the world given his reflexive tendency say dumb shit into microphones. Doug got all his late brother’s (non-drug related) drawbacks and none of Rob’s unholy charm.
It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If Ford spends most or all of the provincial election hiding in the journalistic shadows, he is going to get ruthlessly roasted for it in the press. But let’s assume that there is more method to the madness than just keeping the man safe from himself. Let’s take Doug Ford seriously as a political phenomenon.
The Ontario PCs are campaigning primarily on the (real or imaginary) grievances of their religious, rural, suburban, and self-identifying middle and working class base. This is a large and unwieldy group of people, which is why there is less focus on policy than on perpetuating the inchoate sense of outraged alienation that currently drives North American conservative politics. Every time Ford goes off about carbon pricing or abortion rights, he is not disclosing that his platform is braindead (it is) so much as he is giving his voters something sufficiently soft and fuzzy to pin their angst on. Fuck the carbon tax! Fuck the new sex ed! Fuck those thieving Liberals and their greasy activist premier! Fuck you snowflake, and fuck your feelings! Augh I’m gonna fuck this ballot box!
Anyway, we shouldn’t be too shocked about this development. Beyond the fact that losing a dedicated media bus on the campaign trail isn’t the end of the world, this is a logical progression of conservative practice. If Ford is taking the attitude that the media itself is a hostile partisan actor, he is reading as much from Stephen Harper’s hymnbook as Donald Trump’s. Harper’s method of strictly controlling media appearances and curtailing questions is the low-charisma crusader’s sword and shield.
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Of course, that strategy works even better in 2018. The Canadian media ecosystem is still grappling with the transition from the 20th century heyday of print and broadcast journalism to a no-man’s land of decentralized social networks that are routinely weaponized to sow misinformation and discord. Doug Ford’s lazy populist politicking might wither and die in the full glare of a scrummage, but it can work pretty well if he can cultivate a direct media relationship to voters that bypasses the corrupt and biased Establishment Media. Every phlegmatic fact-check or scathing polemical takedown then only further deepens the delusional structure it is trying to root out. This problem gets exponentially worse in areas without good local journalism.
It takes a reasonably skilled politician to pull something like this off. Donald Trump is not good at many things, but he is a master of playing to the fatal flaws of American media. He was helped by a breathtakingly unpopular opponent.
Fortunately, Ontario is not the United States and Doug Ford is not a famous reality television star. He may very well melt into a pile of fish guts behind the podium at a leader’s debate and spare us a national nightmare. But the fact that we’ve sunk to this level at all should scare the shit out of everyone.
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