Politicians who land in hot water need help managing the crisis and protecting their reputations. Lucky for them, Sen. Mike Duffy has, over the past several weeks, offered a master class in how to get through the worst of it.
Here is Mike Duffy’s seven-step guide to handling a political crisis like a real pro.
1. Belittle. When reporters suggested Duffy was inappropriately pocketing up to $22,000 a year in living expenses (he claimed his primary residence is in P.E.I., even though he’s lived near Ottawa for decades), the senator’s response was to mock them. Do some “adult work,” he said. When that didn’t end the scrutiny, he told one journalist: “It’s none of your business.” This is a great way to win over taxpayers, who love it when a partisan crony—appointed by fiat to a cushy job with a great pension—explains that what he does with their money is none of their concern.
2. Blame. Dodging direct responsibility is essential, as Duffy showed when he emphasized the baffling nature of the Senate’s residency questionnaire. In his defence, the form is an impenetrable brainteaser. Try to stick with me as I walk you through it. The form asks each senator to check a box next to one of the following two statements:
1. My primary residence is within 100 km from Parliament Hill.
2. My primary residence is more than 100 km from Parliament Hill.
Surely this query would confound Stephen Hawking, Doogie Howser and Deep Blue combined! SO PERPLEXING.
3. Dodge. Asked whether he met the Senate’s residency requirement, Duffy replied: “I don’t want to get into all of that because that’s for accountants and heaven knows I’m not an accountant.” This was an excellent answer because everyone knows that only a highly trained accountant, equipped with a calculator and possibly a protractor, is capable of counting all the way to 183—the number of days needed to make a home one’s primary residence. You’re asking me to add? Whoa, let’s leave that to the bean counters! This tactic resonates with the average Joe because who among us hasn’t had difficulty answering trick questions like, “Where do you live?”
4. Deflect. For weeks, Duffy told reporters there’s no story here. He urged them to instead focus on “real issues” like energy development. This is a great gambit because reporters always do what they’re told by a politician who’s up to his neck in it. For instance, if you’re caught cheating on your spouse, just tell those nosy reporters to focus on what really matters: the fact that mangoes are delicious. Yes, when they find you naked in a motel, they’ll probably ask questions like, “What does this say about your personal integrity?” and “What’s with the clown mask?” But give them the skinny on mangoes and they’ll be rushing to the pay phones to yell: “STOP THE PRESSES—I’VE GOT BREAKING FRUIT NEWS!” Works every time.
5. Emote. If playing hardball doesn’t do the trick, be like Mike and try to draw on the sympathies of Canadians. As the scandal wore on, the senator invoked his honest nature and even referred to himself in the third person (“Canadians know Mike Duffy”). This was a brilliant move because when you’re seeking to emphasize your virtue and humility, it’s important to talk like Donald Trump.
6. Flee. Pressed by reporters at an event in Halifax, Duffy opted to improvise his exit—because what better way to say “I have nothing to hide” than by cutting through a hotel kitchen to slip out the back? As the movies have shown us, sneaking through the kitchen is the chosen route of only the most upstanding of citizens, including many of our finest mobsters and assassins.
7. “Admit.” Just as there’s the non-apology apology (“If I offended anyone, then . . . ”), there’s the non-admission admission. The senator played this one perfectly, saying he “may have been mistaken” and insisting that he’s paying back the money only because the issue has become a “distraction.” This is definitely the way to come clean if you want everyone to know you’ve learned absolutely nothing from the experience and you’re caving in only because you’ve run out of ways to cover your backside.
So it’s as easy at that. Next time you’re in deep, follow these simple steps and you too can be regarded with the exact same level of respect that Canadians now have for Mike Duffy, senator from Prince Edward Island(ish).
Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk