Erin O’Toole’s survival as head of Canada’s Conservative Party defies rational explanation. I say that not as a pejorative but in the most literal sense: There’s no obvious rational argument justifying his continued leadership of the Conservatives, just stubborn hope or passive resignation. Nevertheless, consensus both within the party and the media seems to be rallying around the idea that, despite his recent loss to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, O’Toole deserves a second chance.

As previously discussed, O’Toole’s performance in September’s election yielded a trifecta of failure: The Conservatives lost seats in Parliament, their vote total declined, and their share of the popular vote dropped.

Plenty of party leaders have been turfed for less. O’Toole’s predecessor, Andrew Scheer, for instance, did the opposite of O’Toole — he increased the Conservatives’ seats, votes and popular vote share — and yet was treated as such a self-evident failure he was forced to resign 52 days after the 2019 general election.

Scheer was a moderate, but not ostentatiously so. Unlike O’Toole, he never called himself a “progressive” or suggested his party had previously “let down” Canadians, two lines that were part of O’Toole’s closing pitch to voters. Scheer, who had been in conservative politics basically his entire adult life, was a product of a standard ideological subculture, inspired by the Reagan-Thatcher tradition. In a way that wasn’t obvious at the time, he’s looking like the last of an era.

It’s never been clear what, if anything, fuels the political philosophy of Scheer’s successor. The fact that O’Toole ran as a centrist in his first bid for party leader, then a “true blue” Conservative the second time, then back to a moderate for the 2021 general, has been cited as evidence the man is simply an opportunist — but perhaps opportunism deserved its chance. Plenty of confident people, both inside the party and out, have long insisted conservatism itself is the biggest weight around the neck of the Conservative Party, so it was certainly worth testing the thesis that voters would respond better to a candidate who sought to minimize the differences between himself and Trudeau. The fact that O’Toole failed while pursuing such a trendy strategy is probably now helping cloak him with a sort of “moderate privilege” a more conventional candidate would never enjoy. A recent Toronto Sun story was full of defensive quotes from party bigwigs in clear states of denial that their favored approach had flopped.

O’Toole’s also helped by the fact that many in the party’s more old-school faction — those eager to declare the O’Toole approach a failure and favor returning to, at the very least, Scheer-style moderation — feel themselves without a torchbearer.

At times, these types sound almost fatalistic — despairing their party has now basically drained its entire reserve of talent, with every promising bilingual cabinet minister from the previous Conservative administration who has ever considered pursuing the party leadership having either done so, or publicly decided against it. It’s remarkable to think that in a country of 38 million people, even grandees within the Conservative Party cannot scrounge up a single decent center-right citizen to run for prime minister, but if O’Toole stays long enough to fight another election, resignation on the part of the party’s rightward flank will be no small part of why.

A liberal friend of mine recently used the phrase “trust issues” to describe why he and his fellow progressives never considered voting for “the most Liberal leader the Conservatives have ever had,” and the complaint struck me as fair.

O’Toole’s rise and survival do suggest the Conservative Party is powered by rather extreme cynicism these days, divided between those who don’t believe in much of anything beyond gaining power, and those who do believe in things but are prepared to pretend they don’t for the same reason. It’s hardly shocking if voters are confused or suspicious of a party engaged in ever more desperate marketing gimmicks to trick voters into liking it, to gain control of the federal government for reasons of deeply opaque motive.

Progressives have amassed a great deal of power in Canada, and their intimidating political dominance has trapped the country in an ever-tighter ideological consensus on an ever-increasing list of issues, including health care, free speech, immigration, government spending and Indigenous affairs, buttressed by a raft of like-minded judicial and civil service appointments. Many elite Conservatives privately concede this is bad for the country, but an obsession with manipulative strategizing has taught them to stop thinking about pushing back in any sort of open or public way.

A principled conservative party might lose elections, but at least keep debate alive and heighten the public’s awareness that there exist ways of thinking and talking about critical national concerns that differ from the progressive consensus.

The Conservative Party of Canada loses elections without even doing that.