Views / Opinion

Andrew Scheer’s dad jeans and awkward hellos are painstakingly deliberate: Teitel

Scheer’s new ad may seem poorly executed, but the Conservative leader is positioning himself as the only un-slick future candidate in the race for PM.

Andrew Scheer's new clip was actually rather endearing, not in spite of its embarrassing, amateur quality but precisely because of it, Emma Teitel writes.

(CONSERVATIVE PARTY OF CANADA/YOUTUBE)

Andrew Scheer's new clip was actually rather endearing, not in spite of its embarrassing, amateur quality but precisely because of it, Emma Teitel writes.

If you’re an average-looking conservative politician running for the highest office in the nation against two very handsome, left-leaning competitors, both of whom have been written up in top fashion magazines, how do you use your difference to your advantage? Easy. You flaunt it. You do exactly as federal Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer did this month in a new campaign spot: You put on your least remarkable shirt and your most forgiving pair of pants and you tell your fellow country men and women that the mild-mannered schlub standing before them is the answer to what ails them.

“The other guys can take their cues from the cocktail circuits and the celebrities,” Scheer says in the new ad released last week, referring presumably to Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh, as he walks through a suburban park, kids playing on a jungle gym behind him. “I’ll take mine from the grocery stores and the soccer fields. That’s who I am, that’s who I’m fighting for.”

The ad not only appears low-budget, it’s also quite awkward to watch — particularly when Scheer stops mid-spiel to say hello to two women and one man strategically placed on the park benches that line his path. It has the feel not of a federal politics spot, but of a video shown at a school assembly by a 16-year-old running for student council president. (In fact, it reminds me of my own student council campaign videos, which also made use of the local suburban landscape.)

This awkward, amateurish quality is why so many on the “cocktail circuit” (what I assume is Scheer’s term for elites in big cities whose pants aren’t so forgiving) have taken to mocking the leader and the ad endlessly online. Here’s Warren Kinsella on Twitter: “This ad is so bad, and so fundamentally weird, you half expect David Lynch to appear on one of the benches, holding an owl and a log.”

I expected no such thing. Unlike my celebrity peers on the cocktail circuit, I thought Scheer’s new clip was actually rather endearing, not in spite of its embarrassing, amateur quality but precisely because of it. Scheer looks so uncomfortable in the spotlight, I almost want to hug him. (That’s saying a lot because I dislike pretty much everything he stands for.)

And I highly doubt that I am alone in this feeling.

Scheer’s ad may seem to some too weird and too poorly executed to be calculating. But I think every awkward pause and quirk therein is painstakingly deliberate. The Conservative leader is positioning himself as the only unapologetically unsophisticated, un-slick future candidate in the race for PM — in the way he dresses, carries himself and even in the company he keeps: neighbourhood moms who aren’t intimidated to interrupt his official campaign message to say hello (the implication being that nothing, not even a rolling camera, can stop Scheer from greeting an ordinary Canadian on the street). And then of course, there are the kids scaling the jungle gym behind him.

In a 2012 article on the science of political advertising in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, Sadie Dingfelder writes that “reminders of children” can influence “otherwise liberal voters to endorse more conservative views.” I believe the same truth holds for reminders of dad jeans and untucked plaid shirts.

I may not be a political scientist but I did win three high school student council elections in a row and I don’t think campaigning among adult politicians with big budgets is drastically different. The late Toronto mayor Rob Ford had enormous success throwing massive parties in his backyard and giving away hamburgers in a public park (a tactic taken right out of the student council election handbook). Justin Trudeau is the epitome of the class president about whom nerdier, more deserving candidates complain, “No fair, it shouldn’t be a popularity contest.”

Alas it is. But luckily for Scheer, popular comes in different shapes and sizes these days. Make fun of the Conservative leader all you like for his schlubby style and his corny videos, but underestimate him at your peril. He is shaping up to be the Blake Shelton of Canadian politics.

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