ANALYSIS: Can Doug Ford win the Ontario PC Party leadership?

Goodbye Vic Fedeli, we hardly knew ye.

As the Progressive Conservative chuckwagon raced further over the cliff this week, the affable and pragmatic Fedeli decided to step off and step down as a permanent leadership candidate — and did so with a flourish, wrapping himself in a flag of devotion to party and province vowing ominously to “root out the rot” in the Ontario PC Party.

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Fedeli has never been one for reckless rhetoric during his time at Queen’s Park. So his declaration of a crisis has credibility, even if his riff on rot is partly a smokescreen for getting while the getting is good.

READ MORE: Ontario PCs meet to set rules for leadership race

Understanding he would never escape from the upcoming PC leadership Thunderdome (many enter, only one leaves), Fedeli now has one of the least demanding jobs in politics: interim leader. Look at the goodwill for Rona Ambrose, or even Jim Wilson provincially, when they took the helm but stayed out of the leadership race. Every party loves a leader that no one has to vote for.

Plus, if the PCs falter in the June election, there will be many who will regret not sticking with bland-but-steady Vic.

But that was yesterday’s “fake news.”

Now, all eyes are on the Donald Trump-ish candidacy of former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford. You sense that if it were possible, Ford would have taken an escalator down to his mother’s basement to announce his leadership bid for the Progressive Conservatives.

WATCH: Vic Fedeli rules out run for PC leadership, to focus on ‘rot’ instead. Alan Carter has more. (Jan. 30)

His broadside against unnamed “elites” in the party is taken directly from the Trump campaign handbook detailing how to speak for poor people while being stinking rich yourself.

Although the late Rob Ford is often cited as the template for this kind of irony-ignorant candidacy, Doug will try to replicate Trump’s success as an outsider campaigning against nefarious forces trying to subvert the will of the people.

In the nasty fight to come (few believe Ford’s promise of a respectful race), the Ontario PC platform will likely be dismantled as candidates look for ways to differentiate themselves from each other. Soon, it won’t just be Patrick Brown and his spiffy haircut removed from the People’s Guarantee, but pledges for a carbon tax and plans for deficit spending in the first years of a PC administration will likely be tossed on the political bonfire.

READ MORE: Doug Ford rules out Toronto mayoral campaign if PC leadership bid fails

In an interview with Global News Radio 640 Toronto’s Alex Pierson on Wednesday afternoon, Ford promised not only to review the carbon tax, which he called “nasty,” but to also review Ontario’s sexual education curriculum — a subject that has long been a thorn in the side of Ontario’s social conservatives.

Can Ford actually win, you ask? Those are two questions to be answered in quick succession. First, at a leadership convention in March and then the provincial vote in June.

Here are two answers in quick succession: Yes and yes.

READ MORE: Who will replace Patrick Brown as Ontario PC party leader?

Any pundit who snickered at Trump’s escalator ride to infamy would be wise to avoid assuming Doug Ford can’t make it out of the basement.

Brown yanked the carpet out from under the anti-sex-edders after winning the leadership and then abandoned more conservatives with a capital ‘C’-centrist platform. Of the presumed candidates running for the leadership, only Ford can win them back.

Ford’s path to leadership is not easy. He will have to prove his family brand can sell memberships outside of Toronto and he doesn’t have the deep pockets or organizational talent coalescing around Caroline Mulroney and Rod Phillips.

But Ford can win.

As for the bigger contest in June against Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath? The past Ford and current Trump make that answer self-evident.

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