A nominal conservative who gatecrashes a political race, says a lot of stupid things about sensitive topics, provokes dismissive eye rolls from the political establishment … yet somehow maintains a stubborn cult following among low-information voters. It's the political summer blockbuster in the United States. But here in Toronto, it played to packed houses a year ago. We know how it ends.

Just as Donald Trump is the only GOP presidential candidate most Canadians can name, Rob Ford is the only Canadian mayor who's ever fronted American tabloids or appeared on Jimmy Kimmel. That's because he smoked crack cocaine while serving his term as mayor. And dismissed reporters he didn't like as "maggots" and pedophiles. And once got thrown out of a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game after drunkenly berating a pair of tourists. And spouted racial slurs to a taxi driver. And bragged to reporters about the quantity of oral sex he performed on his wife. And referred to Italians as "wops" and "dagos." And a dozen other things that would have sunk any ordinary politician.

In September, when Ford withdrew from Toronto's 2014 mayoral election because of a medical crisis (which turned out to be cancer), he was still polling a strong second in a three-way race. And on voting day, he was elected councilor for Toronto's Ward 2, a "Ford Nation" stronghold, with 60 percent of the ballots. He accomplished this despite the appalled shrieks of just about every single respectable politician, business group and opinion journalist in Toronto. The city's largest newspaper, the left-wing Toronto Star, went to particularly extraordinary lengths. At one point, the Star even sent letters to 70 civic leaders, effectively demanding that they speak out against Ford, or else face a public shaming in the Star's pages.

Even many conservatives became increasingly disgusted with Ford: His open drug use and dysfunctional personal life were a slap in the face to both the rule of law and family values. And in the end, he wasn't even much of a fiscal hawk: Ford demanded a multi-billion-dollar subway extension to suburbs that didn't need it, because … well, because, the suburbs were where he got his votes.

Eventually, it became obvious that the substantial minority of voters who supported Ford till the bitter end really didn't care what came out of his mouth. These were people whose primary aim at the ballot box was to vent disgust at Toronto's ruling class, which they regarded as insufferable elites in the style of former mayor David Miller (a central-casting liberal with a Prius and a Harvard degree). The fact that those same elites hated everything Ford did and said just proved that the guy was the real deal.

Every corny populist needs a simple, core narrative that lends moral drama to his insurgency, and imbues his foot soldiers with tribalistic fervor. For Trump, it's the idea of a boardroom-tested alpha male with the guts to protect America from Hispanic bogeymen.

Ford, on the other hand, was the blunt-spoken everyman who'd rescue Toronto from politically correct social engineers, Jane Jacobs acolytes and bike-lane pansies. As both case studies illustrate, once the core narrative takes hold, the gaffes don't really hurt the candidate much (even an idiotic comment about a war hero in your own party). Just the opposite: The mainstream pile-on only feeds the insurgents' tribal reflex.

That's bad news for Republicans who are concerned about Trump's clown show overshadowing a GOP race featuring serious policy-makers and ideologues such as former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But the problem is temporary. It's only because the GOP field is so huge that Trump is able to give the appearance of a juggernaut by monopolizing the 20 percent who want to burn the house down. During normal times, there's a hard cap on the number of voters who embrace this sort of political nihilism. In Toronto, that number proved to be about 30 percent. Among GOP primary and caucus voters, I'd guess it's less than that.

It's no coincidence that Ford, the battiest politician in modern Canadian history, had no official party affiliation. (Unlike their American equivalents, Canadian municipal councils generally lie outside the party system.) Ford could never happen at the Canadian provincial or federal level, because the grandees and paid-up members who control the nomination process in our Parliamentary system are vigilant about protecting their party brands — which is one of the reasons our premiers and prime ministers tend to be so fantastically bland and inoffensive.

But America is different: You rugged individualists actually trust the masses to pick the presidential candidates. And every once in a while, the masses inevitably will get led off in the wrong direction by populist windbags.

It doesn't last, though: Just one year after peak Ford, Toronto now is led by a charming and respectable conservative establishment figure named John Tory — essentially, this city's Jeb Bush. Ford, meanwhile, is just a sad, surreal memory for most Torontonians. A year from now, I expect the same will be true of Trump.

Jonathan Kay is a columnist for the National Post in Canada and editor-in-chief of The Walrus Magazine. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.