In politics, when your opponents are making a grave miscalculation it's conventional wisdom to let them proceed uninterrupted.
That may explain the stony silence from nationalist and republican quarters over the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leadership contest (if you could call it that) this weekend after Arlene Foster's ouster as party leader and First Minister.
Oddball candidate Edwin Poots tossed his hat into the succession ring less than twenty-four hours after Foster's shock announcement, hoping to steal momentum and support from his main rival Jeffery Donaldson, a former aid to the white supremacist Enoch Powell.
Today, I announce my candidacy for leader of the Democratic Unionist Party. I love this country and its people and I look forward to engaging with party colleagues in the days ahead. pic.twitter.com/Qesd3GTCwR— Edwin Poots MLA (@edwinpootsmla) April 29, 2021
So who is Poots? He is almost a stereotype of the condescending Protestant bigot, a man who has never been shy of broadcasting his aggressive anachronisms, for example on his view of the age of the Earth: “My view on the earth is that it's a young earth. My view is 4000 B.C.”
Poots is close to the Caleb Foundation, a creationist pressure group in Northern Ireland who take adversarial approaches on a range of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, but he has always been an equal opportunity offender, spending much of his time listening to calls for apologies from all the groups that he intentionally offends.
Last year, for example, he insisted the coronavirus is more common in nationalist areas than unionist ones, without offering a shred of supporting proof, then adding that the difference in transmission between nationalist and unionist areas was “around six to one.”
This month marks the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland, but it's a party that few are in the mood for or want an invitation to now. Instead of celebration unionism finds itself increasingly politically divided and increasingly outvoted as nationalist demographics boom and as it falls further out of step with the rapid social changes in both the Republic and the UK.
Facing challenges from without and within, the DUP are doing what they have always done when confronted with intractable problems, retreat into siege mode. Instead of reaching outward the backwoodsmen have spoken and selected a hardliner out of step with the times and the challenges ahead of them.
Nevertheless, Poots predicted selection is making some loyalist commentators hug themselves with glee.
Nationalism, roll over Unionism & the peace processors are all furious at the prospect of Edwin Poots as DUP leader.
That’s all you need to know about why Edwin Poots must be the next leader of the DUP.— Jamie Bryson (@JamieBrysonCPNI) April 30, 2021
Only in the imagination of their opponents do nationalists fear Edwin Poots as DUP leader. Rather they see him as an even less charismatic avatar of the late Ian Paisley, but now even more of a dinosaur in the internet age.
The problem for unionism is that their political dial and social embrace have hardly moved forward since Edward Carson first signed the Ulster Covenant. Change is not in its nature. So instead of preventing a border poll, Poots' selection would hasten one. Things are starting to move quickly now.