Tony Abbott has been busy diminishing the Liberal Party's appeal - and now his party has helped him trash the one quality his fans claimed he had in spades, both absolutely and compared to Rudd: his authenticity.
The Liberal Party had a reputation for dour economic management, one that John Howard built assiduously and which Kevin Rudd stole from him. Abbott can't and won't compete with him on that front, it bores him and he thinks he can shrug off those in his party who thinks it is the main game simply because he's Tony Abbott and they're not. His one attempt at shoring up his party's main drawcard yesterday sank without trace.
The revelation that Liberals are getting Abbott some acting lessons is the end of Authentic Abbott, and the whole principle of Let Tony Be Tony. Everyone who shakes his hand from hereon in will be getting the full cheesy experience, like you get with Bronwyn Bishop or Kristina Keneally. Marginal seat voters, captains of industry, anyone he has to impress in order to increase the Liberal vote and engender confidence in a Coalition government, all of those people will ask 'are you for real?', and not be able to answer it either way convincingly. Abbott will project the feeling that he's having a lend of them.
Yeah, I'll bet that Kevin Rudd has had training as well - but a nerd can be expected to get help to take it up a gear, and Rudd doesn't strut around proclaiming how authentic he is.
Liberals complain that Abbott is being criticised for keeping fit, but that's missing the point too. Abbott is being criticised for his hope that projecting his physical fitness might make up for an absence of aptitude for office, a compelling reason why people should vote Liberal rather than default to the incumbents. He thinks all that hard graft about policy and which way to take the country is beside the point, something you can toss off the top of your head while he gets to the real point of his life: a sub-Whitmanesque song of himself with, ah, without the ah, depth of conviction that, tscha, you might expect.
The Liberal Party has no choice but to put up with this self-indulgence because there's nothing more important than letting Tony be Tony (well, there is - but the Turnbull era showed one thing, that if you don't indulge Abbott in his whimsy he melts down). By sending him off to acting school they underestimate how much they have not boosted their leader, but undermined him utterly and irretrievably.
No point in him doing the Captain Catholic thing either - it isn't just patriotism that is the last refuge of people like Abbott. With the perceptions that child abuse is an endemic problem in the Catholic Church, and that its officials are unwilling or unable to act to clean it up (and that they have a bias in favour of perpetrators over victims), it's a huge error to proclaim that you're the guy to solve the nation's ills while shackling yourself to The Brotherhood of Secrets & Lies.