Tories seem to have trouble defining Justin Trudeau

There's a political theory that goes something like this: Define your opponent before they have an opportunity to his or herself.

It's a theory that — when executed well — can pay huge dividends.

In 2011, the Tories did a masterful job in defining then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff as someone who was "just visiting." They launched an ad campaign portraying Ignatieff as someone who came back to Canada just because he wanted to be prime minister.

Incidentally, it looks as if Ignatieff was 'just visiting.' He's now back teaching at Harvard after leading the Liberals to third-party status for the first time in its storied history.

In 2012, as explained, the Barack Obama campaign defined Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as an "Out of Touch Scrooge McDuck."

It worked: come election day 2012, the American public dismissed Romney as an aloof multi-millionaire who couldn't relate to the average Joe.

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We're also seeing Canada's Conservative Party deploy the 'define your opponent' strategy against the opposition leaders in the lead-up to the 2014 election.

Their narrative for the NDP leader came easy. If you believe the Conservatives, Thomas Mulcair is is "Angry Tom" with extreme views that would essentially freeze Canada's economy.

Defining Justin Trudeau, however, has been a little more challenging for them.

They started out — the day after Trudeau won the Liberal leadership in 2013 —with an ad campaign suggesting that Trudeau is "in over his head". They suggested that he lacked the substance, the knowledge and the know-how to be prime minister.

While that may have entertained the Tory-base, it didn't help stall Trudeau's momentum in the opinion polls.

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They've since moved on to the narrative about Trudeau and his policy about legalizing and regulating marijuana. The Tories have been circulating leaflets claiming that Trudeau has been "speaking to elementary school students about the benefits of marijuana."

They even used the Trudeau/pot theme in the recent Scarborough-Agincourt byelection to absolutely no success. The Liberals handily won the riding by a much wider margin than the 2011 election.

There's a third narrative about Trudeau — that is a little more subtle — that seems to be emerging: it's that Trudeau is weak on crime and soft on terrorists.

This narrative seems to be pushed by the right-leaning Sun News Network whose website's "top story" on Wednesday was titled: "Trudeau lambasted for visiting mosque linked to al-Qaeda recruitment."

"Justin Trudeau is being accused of "intellectual dishonesty" for his visiting a Montreal-area mosque that American government sources say has been an Al-Qaeda recruitment centre," notes the column.

"The Liberal leader reluctantly acknowledged last weekend he'd attended the Al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiah mosque, which follows the strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam (codified and practiced in Saudi Arabia) then cast doubt on the veracity of the American government's designation."

The article goes on to quote a PMO spokesperson who says this:

"First, Justin Trudeau refused to condemn the horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon - instead he tried to rationalize the actions of evil individuals. It's clear that Justin Trudeau cannot be trusted to keep Canadians safe."

Will this narrative work?

Nothing else has.

According to the latest Forum Research poll, the Liberals have opened up a 16 point lead on the Conservatives while Trudeau maintains just a slight advantage in the preferred prime minister question.

Conservative supporters will tell you that there's still a long way before an election. They might argue that mid-term opinions polls mean very little.

But if one of their election tactics is to define Justin Trudeau — as it seems to be — they certainly haven't done it yet.

And, if they don't do it soon, they run the risk of Trudeau actually defining himself first.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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