Coalition strategists will claim that any day now, just you wait, Abbott will come out with something that decisively shifts the race in their favour - something unexpected but irrevocable, like the winged keel in the 1983 America's Cup, or the moment from Babe where a pig wins a sheepdog contest because there's no formal rule against it.
Part of that is Abbott's lunge for authority: have faith in The Leader, all will be well. He has brought you thus far and shall carry you further. Have the kind of faith in him that he has in himself. Liberals who grumbled that his no-better-than-Gillard approval would drag down the sky-high polls he "achieved" for his party were ignored. They will be ignored after they are vindicated too, because that's politics for ya.
The fact is that whenever Australia has changed governments, the opposition has gone into the campaign well ahead. This was the case in 2007 and 1996. In 1983, Malcolm Fraser called the election when Labor's policy-wonk leader was in place but damaged; Hayden was gone by the afternoon and Hawke lashed out at a journalist who implied he had "blood on his hands". Today, Labor has done its leadership change and the inexplicably popular leader can flick his fingers through his silver hair without leaving any trace of red. The mid-campaign pivot is a crock.
Ah, say the Abbott fans, what about 2010? In that election Abbott's momentum was gone after the first week, despite the leaks and The Real Julia, etc. All that momentum was negated by the groundswell of people who thought: if this keeps up Abbott is going to win! That's why the polls have evaporated for the Coalition now, and why Prime Minister Gillard would have been swinging it around like a gate had ... aargh, anyway.
The Coalition believed in the mid-campaign pivot last time, and the time before that too. Dennis Shanahan believed that the little master would pull it out of the bag one last time, right up until the removalist truck pulled up at Kirribilli House. Those who really believe the Coalition has a future as well as a past just have to snap out of that. There is no switch to flick, not now, not later.
To be fair to the Coalition, 50-50 or so is a pretty good place to be at this stage, and it's why they're not panicking. Then again Kim Beazley failed to step it up just that little bit extra in 1998 - and even he wouldn't have lacked the ticker to debate the incumbent anywhere, any time, for real.
Perhaps they should be more concerned than they are. Abbott's economic credentials will not see out the week. His policies on the environment, telecommunications and workplace relations are arrant garbage and nobody will change their vote on account of them. The education policy where Abbott promised to do bugger-all was actually more credible than his grudging admission that Gonski has a point. In every policy area, even in car donations - he is offering less, less, less, to a country with a promising future. What a fool.
Speaking of promising future, what was The Situation thinking?
In three words: hope, opportunity, reward. A milder version of what happened to Helen Wilson: the Liberals are fond of saying "a leopard can't change its spots", but that applies to their leader as much as Labor's. The reward is making it all about him rather than the complete scene, which could have been sweetly cliched if only Abbott could have tolerated others at the centre of it.Copyright (c) Fairfax
All that Margie-and-the-girls effort fails in the face of that. Four years of campaigning, and one unguarded moment says more than all of his words. Some have said that this particular piece of opportunism will do for Abbott what that crushing handshake did for Mark Latham nine years ago (!); I won't dispute it.
John Howard sculpted the wings that are slowly disintegrating from Abbott's back as he plummets to earth. Abbott was wrong to float along, leaving it all to the last minute. The Liberals were wrong to let him do so. Those who believed in them all have no excuse not to know better.
Journalists will take credit for that scrutiny but they won't take credit for its absence over the past four years, so stuff that, and them.
People with half a brain should be wondering when exactly the Abbott magic is going to kick in, and I expect the press gallery and the wider journosphere to be asking itself exactly that soon enough. People with a whole, functioning one know it never will, or can.