09.08.2014 03:28 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: what’s Harper’s Daisy going to be?

Fifty years ago on Sunday, politics was changed forever.

It begins quietly, with a little girl. She’s in a field somewhere, and she has long, straight hair, and big eyes. She can be no more than three or four years old.

She’s holding a daisy. In a child’s singsong voice, she counts the petals as she removes them. “One, two, three, four, five,” she says, softly.

She stops and looks up, frightened. A man’s echoing voice starts to count. As he does, the camera moves closer. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four,” he says, and all that can be seen are the child’s eyes, which are afraid. The shot moves into the dark centre of her eye.

Then there is an explosion — a huge, lingering explosion — and the child’s iris is filled with a grainy image of an atomic bomb being detonated. As the mushroom cloud reaches upward, another voice is heard: the voice of Lyndon B. Johnson, president of the United States.

“These are the stakes,” he says in his Texas twang. “To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark.” Pause. “We must either love each other, or we must die.”

The screen goes black, and a few words appear in white: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3.” Then the last voice-over: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Ran once, that ad did, on September 7, 1964. But everyone involved modern politics agrees: it changed everything.

Some say the ‘Daisy’ ad represented the start of attack ads. But it’s wrong to suggest that ‘Daisy’ is akin to the despicable Jean Chrétien “face” ad, produced, in part, by Toronto mayoralty candidate John Tory. That was just a vicious, empty-headed attack on the Liberal leader’s facial paralysis, and had nothing to do with policy. ‘Daisy,’ on the other hand, did not mention once the name of President Johnson’s opponent, but it was all about a policy: nuclear deterrence.

It led to Johnson’s re-election, and the evisceration at the polls of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, whose name was not mentioned once in the ad. And, as noted, it changed politics.

As the fiftieth anniversary of ‘Daisy’ is marked – about whom, full disclosure, I named my own consulting firm! – it is hard not to wonder what ‘Daisy’ equivalent the Conservative Party wishes to unleash on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

Since he became Liberal leader in April 2013, the Harper Cons have produced a barrage of attack ads about Trudeau. None have had a measureable effect. In almost every poll taken since April 2013, Trudeau has enjoyed a significant lead.

‘Daisy’ worked, its creator Tony Schwartz later told me, because it “surfaced” pre-existing emotions about Goldwater. It gave visual expression to what they already felt.

So what, then, can the Conservatives do to avoid being wiped out by Trudeau? The same polls that show him ahead also show Canadians – including Liberal voters – have some misgivings about his experience and judgment. Could a Daisy-style ad “surface” those worries, and turn the tide against the Grits?

Maybe. Perhaps. But the fact is that Harper has been highlighting Trudeau’s relative inexperience and judgment for months – in ads, in speeches, in mailings, in every scrum. None of it has worked.

‘Daisy’ worked because it evoked profound emotions about a matter of life and death. Can Harper persuade skeptical Canadians that Trudeau’s judgment is a matter of life and death, too?

It’s unlikely. So, as the Conservatives continue frantically casting about for their own ‘Daisy,’ one thing cannot be denied:

Time is running out.


  1. Matt says:

    One would assume Mulcair and the NDP are also looking for their “Daisy” moment regarding Trudeau as well.

  2. Plain and simple, if he wants his daisy, Harper should hire you.

    • Just Askin' says:

      Effective anti-Trudeau ads could have been simple and to the point, instead of the amateur-hour dated garbage presented by the justinoverhishead.ca team.

      Also, anti-Trudeau attack ads have contributed to the perception that the Conservatives are in a position of weakness, which was stupid and premature of them to do so far in advance of an election campaign.

      The ads have helped legitimize Trudeau as a threat to the Harper team since they felt it warranted to run those ads, while completely disregarding the official opposition.

      Terrible strategy.

      • Lance says:

        The same exact thing was said when they did the same exact thing to Dion and Ignatieff. Granted, Trudeau is neither of them. However, the magic in ads like these is that are designed with a delayed effect in mind via a seeded message over time, especially when the target of the ads reinforces that with their own actions or words. Then when it sprouts, the subsequent ads around election time remind people. It doesn’t just have to work against Trudeau; they can work against Haroer, too.

        • Scotian says:


          Just a moment here, it took Mike Duffy in the last week of the campaign to release and smear all over the airways raw footage from a Dion interview with a Maritime Anchor Steve Murphy to turn things around for Harper. not for those ads to finally work. That was and is not something one can rely on having happen in an election campaign normally, and for that service to Harper and the CPC Duffy became Senator Duffy a couple of months later. If you go back and look at the polling Data Dion was holding his own until that point, it took the highly improper AND partisan action of a national network’s national political desk chief and national political show host to finally turn it around for Harper and the CPC against Dion being unfit for office.

          In all the years/decades I’ve watched Steve Murphy down here I have N.E.V.E.R. seen him so professionally pissed as I did during that period. It is routine for interviewees to have false starts and glitches even with those whose primary language is English, if all politicians had their raw interview footage released none of them would ever consent to be interviewed again because of how bad it would make them look. Leaving aside the fact that it was a complicated question in terms of time sense being asked, Murphy had given his word that this would be treated the same way as always, only to have Duffy abuse the position of his job at CTV to pull it out of the raw feeds and then use it the way he did. Then after Duffy smeared it over and over all over CTV, suddenly Harper has this emergency news conference to use that footage to show why Dion was not a suitable choice for PM, and then the polls did a major shift in his favour. So this result was not the impact of the ad campaign, or at least not alone, and it was at least as much of not more so the intervention of a supposed apolitical journalist running a national networks political news desk and politics show abusing his authority, power, and responsibility to both his viewers and his fellow professionals at CTV to do it with.

          Now, Ignatief on the other hand, there you are quite right. The only saving grace he had to me was that he was not Harper, not exactly a high bar/threshold to clear. Those ads worked well because they fit him like a glove. But there is a clear difference in how well the Ignatief versus Dion leadership attacks worked, and the Dion attacks required extraordinary help from someone who professionally was supposed to be above partisanship, whom in this instance clearly showed he wasn’t, and the indecent haste at which he jumped into the Senate afterwards only underscored that.

          Trudeau, on the other hand I suspect will prove out to be a different kettle of fish. I think he may get a bit of a pass on the experience question in part because he clearly did not want to be leader as soon as this when he fist ran for the House, but after the 2011 result if he didn’t run then he may never be able to again because the party itself would have disappeared. It is clear to a lot of people that Trudeau is not driven first and foremost by overweening ambition to be PM, but more because he feels a calling, a duty to do so in these times. That he comes off more as one of us than of one of the usual political class despite being the scion of the most well respected PM in Canadian living and arguably ever history. He clearly can “feel our (Canadian) pain” to use that phrase that was so successful of Bill Clinton.

          I think many people are so tired of Harper, not enamoured with either Mulcair of the NDP for various reasons, who had decided a decade earlier that the Libs needed a time-out in the penalty box but now have done their time, are all converging back on the Libs as their primary choice, and see that Trudeau despite his youth and inexperience has led his party into true renewal on the riding and constituency levels, restructured their fundraising mechanism so as to be able to compete with the CPC unlike his predecessors, and turned a party that had its obituary written in May 2011 into not just a viable political choice but a viable choice for government, even possibly a majority government. That takes real leadership whatever verbal gaffes he may have made (according to the political chattering classes, because it only seems they and Trudeau foes have seen them as such), and it is hard to claim with such a successful track record that someone is an unfit/incompetent leader. Ads that claim one thing while objective reality shows the opposite do not tend to work well, and this is the problem for the inexperienced leader meme from the CPC , watching what has happened to the Lib party since Trudeau started to run for the leader, how he won overwhelmingly with 80% first ballot and then squelched the old factionalism within his party, and how he has strengthened the party since becoming leader shows the actions of a competent and capable leader, so which does one believe, the ads or your own lying eyes?

          This is going to make finding an easy to fit attack mold for him difficult, since his inexperience as a leader really was the best bet, and it clearly has been failing. By this point in the Dion (in his case it was the anti-Green Shift ads I found effective) and Ignatief leaderships you could see signs that the ads were having some negative impact on them, that cannot be said of the anti-Trudeau ads, indeed arguably they have helped him more than hurt him, and that is going to make the CPC that much more desperate to find their own “Daisy” ad for him, so much so that they risk coming out with their own version of the infamous Chretien ad in 1993.

          As for finding a way to Daisy Harper, the problem isn’t whether the material is there or not, it is whether either of the two main political rivals to the CPC want to go that route against him. For the Libs and Trudeau it could undercut their message of a different way of politics than the confrontational anger and fear driven mold of the Harper CPC. For the Mulcair NDP it could further drive a wedge between him and the NDP traditional base in being seen as further copying Harper’s methods and tools, something Mulcair is already having a clear issue with within his party. Of the three current leaders it is Harper who is best positioned to use something that harsh successfully, the problem the other two have is far differing reasons it could cause significant self inflicted damage as much as any to Harper, so is it worth it to them, or will another approach work better for them. I’m not saying neither would go this way, just that there are from what I see clear risks for them to do so, and those risks could well cause them not to despite the clear material to work with in Harpers record as PM.

          • I have never had the sense that Trudeau was driven by a sense of calling. I know many people for whom a sense of calling is a true drive in their lives. It’s not apparent in Trudeau at all.

            He does seem to be a talented actor though.

            That attacks on Trudeau’s inexperience don’t work is not evidence of anything other than popular dullness; that same dull populace that looks to the Huffington Post for news and wants to know more about TIFF than it does about ISIS. And a chunk of that same dull populace wants to put the architect of that awful, infamous Chretien ad in the mayor’s office of our largest city. It says a lot about the hollowness of political discourse and the fickleness of the public, and suggests that not too much should be made of any decision represented by votes: idiocy is as likely to get someone elected as integrity — or perhaps more so.

            In the end, Harper’s daisy might just be too difficult to grow. It arises out of the questionable appearance of Trudeau’s character. That’s harder to malign — especially when it’s covered by the sheen of charisma — than a facial distortion. I’m not sure the CPC understand subtle well enough, or know how to convey something that only time will really tell.

  3. Kevin T. says:

    Daisy didn’t come after several years of attack ads, so people weren’t ready for that of message. It is not as if they aren’t ready now but they are expecting it, and they just don’t seem to care anymore. The Cons can have the dancing iPod of ads, and people will still vote against them. The Libs just need to come out with a simple wave washing away a pile of dirt, and not mention any names either.

  4. Brad says:

    Maybe attack ads have run there course or maybe people are tired of listening to Harper.

    Harper needs another approach, finding the franklin ships and wearing a Canada coat won’t do it, not even the hockey book is got g to help.

    It’s obvious that people don’t at like him, what’s to like?

  5. Lance says:

    Time was running out the moment they got in office.

  6. Brachina says:

    “Daisy” isn’t Harper’s style. He doesn’t go Nuclear, he goes Chinese Water Torture. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Nothing too extreme, easily dismissed as it slowly goes under the radar. Unseen. Until the right moment and the right catalyist and bang, you gone. It won’t come until sometime during the election.

    Mulcair on the other hand is more then capable of coming up with a “Daisy” style ad, an effective one.

    • Terry Quinn says:

      What people are not discussing here is the great possibility that JT and his team might have a daisy project of their own against Harper. They surely have the ammo and just need the timing to be right regardless of whether Harpo has one of his own.

      No matter what Mulcair does it won’t resonate as he has no credibility left to build on as a candidate for PM.

  7. Luke says:

    Probably they will roll out an ad that asks us whether we trust Trudeau to navigate relations with Putin’s Russia. This idea for an ad has been floating around the internet for a bit and I’ve heard the general point made in person by a Trudeau detractor as well. I think it could be done without being overly brutish, and it could actually raise a good point. I wonder whether people will care to pay any mind to ads coming out of the Conservative Party, given how silly and nasty they tend to be. Then again, I was never convinced by that party anyway, and likely never will be.

    But I can picture a pretty effective ad along those lines. Maybe they’ll work in a couple of good Vlad quotes (reminders of the Russian nuclear arsenal, anyone?) and contrast them with some flippant Trudeau comments or the usual striptease.

    • Reality.Bites says:

      The problem with an ad about Trudeau facing off with Putin is imagining Canada with any power in such a confrontation, regardless of who our leader is.

      • Luke says:

        True, at least in the sense that aggressive language from a nation with a small military is hardly a real threat. This is why I intuitively dislike Harper’s approach to international politics. Probably a softer approach more focussed on building good relationships with strategic partners would be better. Instead, the government seems content to alienate itself little by little from other nations. Too bad.

      • Scotian says:

        Agreed. If anything such an ad would massively backfire outside of the hardcore Harper/CPC base for the very reason. Most Canadians knew full well we are militarily and economically a minor power in the world, hardly able to stand up to Putin or Russia without making everyone else globally either laughing at us or shaking their heads in profound pity/disgust for our delusions of self grandeur. That is leaving aside the usual Canadian belief in the third way of the peacemaker mentality which is still strong in our society. I’m not sure it could have worked in the height of the Cold War, these days I think it will have about the same impact as Trudeau stripping for the charity attack ad did.

  8. Greg Vezina says:

    The Proportional Representation deal offered to and refused by then NDP Leader Ed Broadbent by Pierre Trudeau will be Mulcair’s ‘daisy’ moment. Who will believe him promise to do anything differently, when Ed Broadbent, Jack Layton and five provincial NDP parties have had PR as official policy for the last thirty years and all have either formed a government or held the balance of power and done nothing to advance the cause when they actually could. If Trudeau is really smart he will move away from transferable vote (which just elects Liberals and Conservatives with false majorities) and come out strongly in favour of real Mixed Member PR with no party list candidates so all MPs represent ridings. If he did that, people would really believe change was coming, because with this and other proposed changes like MPs having free votes except for being bound by major policies, the opportunities for a leader to abuse power would be reduced and Canadians could trust voting for him would not turn out like voting for the change Harper brought.

    • doconnor says:

      The people of Canada has had plenty of opportunities to get excited about PR, but, sadly, they never have.

      Marijuana legalization would probably do more to get Canadian excited about real change, assuming they even want real change.

  9. Greg Vezina says:

    P.S. Trudeau’s ‘daisy’ moment will be when enough people give up on him being different and it becomes necessary to register the ‘None of the Above’ Party of Canada to run 338 candidates in the next election who are not bound by party control except for three Direct Democracy policies, ‘Electoral Reform, Referendum and Recall” laws, and who truly can represent their constituents first and foremost.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      Here is a fact for you. A touch of reality, shall we say. There will NEVER be constituency representation if it is bad for the country.

      Country first, Party second, constituency last. Such is the way of Federal politics. Always has been, always will be, forever and ever, Amen.

  10. Reality.Bites says:

    Interestingly, I was assuming before I started reading that you were going to take the opposite tack – what will be the daisy that takes down Harper.

  11. marc says:

    You say “none of it has worked” but it hasn’t needed to work yet. It only has to work at election time. Heightened conflict with Russia including stepping up a NATO response, anti-terrorist measures against Isis, fears of Canadian terrorist recruits, etc. all play into Harper’s favour. He’s positioned himself as a tough serious hawk and painted Trudeau as a soft, frivolous, dove. The attack ads have worked whether we believe them to be accurate or not. The narrative has been solidified over the past couple of years.

    If we’re going to war at election time we know who will win the election. Hopefully, unlike Nixon, Harper won’t see sending troops into battle as an acceptable election gambit. From past actions I wouldn’t put it past him.

    • Scotian says:


      The problem with your thesis is whether Canadians would prefer a strong Hawk to a Dove (and this assumes I agree with your description of both, which I don’t but that would make for a much longer comment than I want to write here) to begin with outside of the Harper core base, and that is a real question. Trudeau may not come off as the old style gunslinger but he doesn’t come off as weak either (again to those outside the Harper base, otherwise those attack ads on him would have had some visible effect long before now). I think one of the biggest problem for the Harper team and too many of his partisans is that they believe their own view of Trudeau as an empty suit, a weak sister with no substance, someone that cannot stand up on his own. The problem wit that is when you remove your biases about him because of his name and just look at his actions before and since becoming Lib leader, especially in the way he took a party everyone said was dead after May 2011 and turned around into a solid cohesive, unified party with strong fundraising and riding/constituencies seen as not only a viable party but viable as government, even majority government, well then it becomes a lot harder to see him in such lights, yet Harper and far too many on both extremes of the political spectrum do exactly that (this is a problem I see both CPC and NDP partisans sharing, which is why I said both extremes and not just the right).

      Those are not the actions and especially not the results of a weak leader, and these are things that the average voter can easily see for themselves without it having to be explained to them, which is why I think the whole inexperienced meme has been failing, and why I suspect the casting of the hawk and dove meme will also be of limited benefit if any at all for Harper.

      • Just Askin' says:

        Trudeau comes off as reckless, and people don’t want reckless leadership during a Cold War-type era, which this is turning into thanks to America’s lack of foreign policy. People want a steady diplomat who they believe will keep Canada safe, and Harper fits that profile. The more Obama bungles Russo-American relations, the better things will be for Harper’s reelection bid.

        • Scotian says:

          Just Askin’:

          I’m not sure I can agree with your calling this time period as being cold-war like, I grew to adulthood during that oh so fun period and there is a BIG difference between the threats of today and the constant background fear of total nuclear destruction of the planet by a single misstep between the two superpowers. This is not to say that the current foreign affairs reality is not more than a little tense/difficult in some ways, but it is a far cry from the reality of the Cold War period, that level of hyperbole is not not only not needed, it does a disservice to the reality that we actually have in front of us.

          As to Trudeau coming off reckless, well it seems that this is a perception shared only by those already opposed to him, it seems everyone else is less than convinced that he is truly “reckless”. Not to mention that for some the idea of someone with a willingness to walk the path of dialogue and bridge-builder (you know, the traditional Canadian path of foreign affairs) as opposed to someone who jumps onto military bandwagons and plays global cop like Harper has been doing (calling him a “steady diplomat” as you do given his actual track record in foreign affairs is far more delusional than calling Trudeau reckless) without any actual you know force/power to back it up with might actually be seen as a positive in these troubled times.

          You reveal yourself when you describe Harper as a “steady diplomat”, the steady part could maybe be sold but diplomat? Really? Have you been watching the same man as the rest of us? Harper has shown next to no diplomatic skill in either domestic or foreign affairs, it is not his nature. He is very much a his way or no way kind of person, and he has acted as such in the role of PM since the first day he was sworn in in the first minority. Indeed, it is this aspect of his personality and way of running the country which has started to alienate so many, and which makes the warmth of Trudeau seem so appealing.

          Now, I’m not saying Trudeau could not be vulnerable on this, but then part of what you are talking about is the gravitas to be a PM, which all sitting PMs have and precious few leaders aiming to become PM ever have prior to becoming one. Harper certainly lacked it prior to then, it is hardly uncommon after all. What I am saying is that your term reckless is a view shared not by most but only by those already inclined to denigrate him. Trudeau has been repeatedly underestimated by his political opponents and foes/critics, and many serious political observers (most recently Brian Mulroney) who are not current players have warned about the risks in doing so. Like that old expression about the greatest accomplishment of the devil was making people not believe in him, for Trudeau having his foes not see his true capabilities and strengths and attack their own straw version of him as the reality may well be his greatest trick so far.

    • Austin So says:

      The foil to that is how Trudeau Jr. methodically took apart Senator what’s-his-face Brazeau in the ring. The thinking fighter that actually fights, rather than the poodle Harper that prances around talking big.

      • Scotian says:

        I’ve said ever since that match that this is likely the best indicator of how he will run an election campaign and act as leader. Nice to see someone else seeing it too.

  12. Peter L says:

    Fun game: find any polling evidence that the Daisy ad actually had an effect.

  13. david ray says:

    “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” The more Harper tries to “make mad” the electorate the more a giant daisy grows out of his ass. It ain’t working.

  14. Ron says:

    What if one of the SU-24’s that buzzed HMCS Toronto were flown by what Capt. Vilnius described as “some buckaroo” ? What if he decided
    to turn into Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, and actually fired on the ship ? Can’t happen right ? But what if it did ? What then ?

    The Parties of NATO agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.

    One mistake today, and the human race could have been on it’s way to The Great Barbecue.

    Thankfully none of these scenarios have come to pass. Yet.

  15. Robert Froom says:


    What are you talking about? Lyndon Johnson was ever elected President. He was Vice President when Kennedy was assassinated. He served as President for the balance of Kennedy’s term but did not seek election. His speech saying that he would not run for election was historic making LBJ the only American president who was never elected to that office. As for his Daisy ad being “historic”, you are mistaken.

    Robert Froom

    • smelter rat says:

      Uh…he defeated Goldwater in 1964

      • Reality.Bites says:

        Shhhhh! It was so much funnier when he didn’t know.

        I’m wondering why, in Froom’s world, the Daisy ad even existed if Johnson never ran for president.

    • sezme says:

      Interesting history lesson, professor! Perhaps you are thinking of Gerald Ford. FYI, it doesn’t take much effort, not much at all, to discover that LBJ was elected president in 1964, a year after JFK’s death. Warren even mentions the date of the Daisy ad in his article which might have clued you in, had you bothered to read it.

      I’m guessing you are confused with 1968 when Johnson declined to run for reelection, having already been in office almost five years.

    • Ron says:

      He did not seek re-election in ’68. In ’64 he ran against Barry Goldwater, Senator from … wait for it …. Arizona. (The more things change … )

      The guy who said “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice ! ”

      That quote is why ‘Daisy’ worked.

  16. davie says:

    Daisyism works great. I remember a business lobby in Canada in an election about NAFTA in the late 1980’s plastered every major daily in the country with a full page NAFTA advocacy ad just a couple of days before the election, leaving no time for a response.

    In a local referendum in Vancouver on a ward system the local business community ran a very effective mass ad campaign.

    In the run up to the recent BC election the BC Libs bought a full page ad in a local freebee newspaper. The ad looked like he front page of that same paper, and had the headline, Come Back Kid, with a big photo of our present premier. It worked well in the election.

    On the reverse, some people say that the BC NDP did not do well in that election because they did not attack with their own ‘daisy’ ads

    As mentioned above, the jobs the Conservatives have done on opposition leaders have been effective…even if it meant having to appoint a tainted senator or two to get the materials.

    Makes local campaigning, door to door stuff, seem irrelevant sometimes.

  17. Steven says:

    The Liberals should plan their own “Daisy” ad featuring the then “inexperienced-never-been-out-of-Canada” Harper of 2003 demanding Canada join the US and the British in the invasion of the then intact Iraq and juxtapose with his most recent remarks about going into a broken Iraq.

  18. MississaugaPeter says:

    Warren, we have lived through way too many elections, to say that a year before any election, that “Time is running out.”

    Otherwise, great article explaining “Daisy”.

  19. Jamie E says:

    Interesting debate, but all predicated on the idea that polling numbers today mean something and reflect reality. Not a wise assumption to make. The next election is still Harper’s to lose. All recent electoral evidence in Canada points to the power of incumbancy, deep economic concern and a corresponding electoral fear of rocking the boat. BC, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario – the list goes on and on.

    As a Liberal who wants Trudeau to win, I really wish the current polls weren’t in our favour. It raises expectations and puts an onus on our guy, instead of Harper. Parties with electoral leads start worrying about governing, instead of winning and focus too much on policy instead of murdering the sitting government. There is a political eon between now and election day and Harper can still outspend us like crazy in the pre-writ.

    Justin’s pledge to be shiny and happy and not go negative still looms large. That pledge haunts me still.

  20. Jon Adams says:

    “Ran once, that ad did.”

    And that, I think is the key to the Tories not having a “Daisy” in them. Their short-pants never met a deceased equine they couldn’t flog, and they think “brevity” is an anti-ED drug.

  21. Tiger says:

    Although the narrative hasn’t moved many votes yet, it doesn’t follow that they won’t move later — the ads reflect concerns that voters actually have about Trudeau.

    The CPC will stick on the current course and air a mix of negative and positive ads. Maybe it’ll work for a fourth mandate, maybe it won’t.

    Panic doesn’t win elections.

    Of course, some elections just can’t be won. But you can choose how you lose — you can save as much as you can, the way Jean Charest did in his provincial political exit in 2012.

  22. socks clinton says:

    Harper prefers to grow mushrooms because he gets to feed them shit while keeping them in the dark.

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