The pivot: Rod Phillips, and why Patrick Brown needs to emulate Jean Chretien

My old friend (“old” because we’ve known each other for just about two decades, not “old” because we are both, you know, older) Rod Phillips is running for Patrick Brown’s PCs in the riding of Ajax in the next provincial election.

Is it a huge pick-up for Brown?  It is.

Is it good for Ontario politics? It is.

I (and many, many others) encouraged Rod to run.  He is precisely the kind of moderate, fair-minded person we need more of in public life.  He can work with people of all ideological persuasions (e.g., Ontario Liberals appointed him to a senior position at the lottery corporation, and he leads the non-partisan CivicAction), and he has a proven record of success in the business world (e.g., he leaves Postmedia after lifting the newspaper giant into a net earnings position, as opposed to the net losses they encountered in the Paul Godfery era).

We got to know each other best when working for our mutual friend John Tory during John’s first mayoral run, in 2003.  I came to see Rod as a sober, sensible second-thought kind of guy – the kind of person we have precious few of, in these dark and dangerous Trump times.

His candidacy, then, is a big win for Patrick Brown.  But Brown needs to do more. And, for help, he need look no further than my former boss Jean Chretien.

In the difficult 1990-1993 period, Chretien faced three persistent criticisms.  One, he didn’t have any good ideas.  Two, he had a hidden agenda – what he was saying he’d do wasn’t what he’d said he’d do in the past (on everything from abortion to deficits).  And, three, Chretien didn’t have any star candidates, and his party was at war with itself.

So what did he do?  He did this.

  1.  To those who didn’t like him, Chretien would say: “Take a look at my Red Book and my team!”
  2. To those who didn’t like his platform, he’d say: “Take a look at my team – and you know me, you can trust me!”
  3. And to those who didn’t like his team, he’d say: “I’ve got the plan to make things better – and I’ve held every major government portfolio, and I know how to make it all happen!”

He pivoted.  And, three back-to-back majorities later, I’d say he kind of did okay, you know?

Patrick Brown is beefing up his team with the likes of Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney.  Next, he needs to start teasing out his policies, to address the “hidden agenda” and “empty vessel” criticisms.  And, most of all, he needs to get better known – and convince voters that he represents (per Clinton) change, versus more of the same.

Can he do that? We shall see, soon enough.  I’ll only say this: if Kathleen Wynne could prove all the pundits wrong (including this one), and win big in 2014, Patrick Brown can win big in 2018, too.

Just hire more guys like Rod.  And, you know, copy that Chretien guy.


Recipe for Hate in Quill and Quire: “suspenseful page-turner”!

Quill and Quire has just published, online and elsewhere, their review of Recipe For Hate.  Here’s what they have to say:

  • “Kinsella skilfully blends convincing depictions of both the punk scene and the racist underground…”
  • “The novel is a suspenseful page-turner that also gives considerable food for thought, anchored in realistically drawn characters and an eye for significant detail.”
  • “…its significance to contemporary life and social schisms is powerful and impossible to ignore.”
  • “…Kinsella captures the political underpinnings of the [punk] movement – a surprising reminder of hope in these dark days.”

You can get your copy of Recipe For Hate  here and here. Meanwhile, the book tour hits Ottawa in the coming weeks – and the book launch, to which you are all invited, is here:


Column: oppo works – and it can work against Trump

Hate him. 

The 70 per cent of Americans who self-identify as Democrats or Independents share one thing: they hate, hate, hate Donald Trump. They want him gone. Impeached, indicted, whatever. Gone.

The 30 per cent of who still call themselves Republicans, however, love him. They adore him. They stick with him.

No amount of controversy, no new outrage, deters them. They remain devoted to the Unpresident. As such, elected Republicans are afraid to oppose him. Those who detest Trump (cf. Senators Flake and Corker) fear the wrath of the lunatic Trumpian media (cf. Fox and Friends, Breitbart, Alex Jones). So they choose flight over fight.

Politicos and political scientists are frustrated by the stubborn Trump voter. Entire forests have been felled to print analyses about how pry lose Trump’s core voters. Racism allegations didn’t work (mainly because a lot of them are racist). Sexism allegations didn’t work (ditto). Allegations about mental instability didn’t work, either (sigh).

But, this week, something revisited the public consciousness. Something that just might work. And it was the product of “oppo.”

This writer has been doing oppo for political parties for decades. Oppo, however disparaged it is by the mainstream, persists because it works.

Now, notwithstanding the many mythologies that have developed around James Carville’s Clinton-era war room, and just about every other war room since, opposition research – “oppo,” as it’s called – is neither new nor glamorous. It is, instead, frequently boring work that has been done in political campaigns since the beginning of time. 

Sometimes it wins campaigns, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always worth doing.

Oppo is just one part of a large and complex campaign organization, drawing together press relations, polling, field organization, debate preparation, advertising and the candidate’s own retail politicking. At best, an oppo team’s damaging revelation will throw an opponent off his or her campaign “message” for a day or so. But rarely will it win a race on its own.

By the early 1990s in the United States, oppo started to come into its own. Larry Sabato, one of the most acute observers of the unloved species that calls itself a political consultant, estimates that there was a 200 per cent growth in opposition research firms in the U.S. in this period. Such paid, full-time professional political consultants, as opposed to the ad hoc, decidedly amateurish political consultants that had preceded them, had become a big, multimillion-dollar business. 

Oppo is ubiquitous now. Technological advances have enabled the media, and politicians, to do things that had been previously only dreamed of. In the case of politicos, technology and the Internet (and its dangerous progeny, Facebook and Twitter) permitted even the most modest campaign to develop crucial databases containing information about opponents. 

James Carville once told me he doesn’t agree with the naysayers say about oppo. “Look,” he told me, “the best way to do this game is to get all your information, and then get all your information out. The voters deserve more information, you know? We’re not in this business to be mean or negative. We’re in it to draw distinctions, and to draw distinctions that favour our side. So we just go out and try and be very honest about these distinctions, these differences.” 

Which leads us, in a circuitous fashion, to this bit of oppo: there is a tape that exists, that real people have really seen. It shows something that happened in room 1101 at the Ritz in Moscow on November 9, 2013. Here, according to one of the people who has seen it, is what it shows:

“There were other aspects to [the target’s] engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit [the target’s] personal obsessions and sexual perversions in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, [the target’s] conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel where he knew President and Mrs. Obama (whom he hated) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under [Russian federal Security Service] control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.”

The target of the oppo effort – initially paid for by Republicans, later by Democrats – was one Donald J. Trump. 

So, read that passage above again, and then ask yourself: when this oppo work ever becomes public – and it will, guaranteed – will Trump’s voters stay with him? Will they remain loyal?

This war room guy’s hunch: they will do what has been long-predicted, and is long overdue. Namely:

Drop him.


School Library Journal: Recipe For Hate “a compelling and jagged read”!


With a title ripped from a Bad Religion song, this book does not try to hide its punk flair. X and Kurt Blank are best friends in Portland, Maine at the beginning of the punk rock movement. Kurt acts as a Nick Carraway figure to X’s Gatsby, narrating his story. Fueled by anger, music, and misfit solidarity, the boys are devastated when one of their own is crucified behind the local bar that hosts punk shows. With police who seem less than fully committed to finding the murderers, X throws himself into figuring out what is going on and uncovers a twisted plot of Nazi ideals…the story compels readers forward…The novel’s unpolished aspect, which in another book might be off-putting, adds a layer of punk rock attitude. It is a story analogous to modern times and will find a home in activist hands.

VERDICT: A compelling and jagged read, buy for the anarchists and misfits in your library.

Trump campaign conspired with Russia: guilty plea proves it

That Robert Mueller is one crafty guy.

He knew the Unpresident would say (a) the Manafort/Gates indictment doesn’t mention me or my campaign (b) they were bad guys I haven’t had any contact with in a long time, and (c) me and my campaign did nothing wrong.

Mueller knew Trump would do that.  He knew.

So what did he do? He waited until the same morning Manafort and Gates were being charged – and then he quietly let this bombshell drop: one of Trump’s most senior campaign advisors – one of the advisors who was with him after the campaign, too – has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Russian agents.  To get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  “Thousands of emails.”

Donald Trump is going down, hard.  It may take a while.  But he is done.

Good morning Americas! It’s #IndictmentMonday!

It will be such a good day, too!  My God Almighty, how I enjoy the misery and despair that will be unleashed today!

Trumpkins being bankrupted by legal bills! Once-close Trumpsters turning on each other before grand juries! The inner circle’s mug shots living on the Internet, forever!  Make Assholes Guilty Again!

Who do you think is heading to the slammer? Vote now, vote often!