This election is between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. There's another bloke running for prime minister as well – someone named Bill Shorten, I think – but he's not the main game.
If Turnbull wins a double-dissolution election convincingly on July 2, Abbott will have to quit Parliament, like he should have when he lost the top job last September.
Malcolm Turnbull: 'There has been change'
The Turnbull government is seeking re-election on the policies of the Abbott government says former prime minister Tony Abbott says while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the governments differ greatly.
But if Abbott remains front and centre during the campaign – through leaks, public appearances and defences of his legacy like he's attempted already – then Turnbull will lose seats and blow a chance to control the Senate.
With Turnbull's electoral invincibility shot, Abbott would be well placed to undermine him then challenge to regain the top job later this year or early in 2017.
How do voters prevent Abbott's return? By either taking the risk with that Shorten bloke and his union mates; by going independent/Green; or by rallying behind Turnbull.
How can Turnbull make the last option the most appealing one for voters?
Simply by being himself.
Within hours of kicking off the faux election campaign, Turnbull tried to stress he was not Abbott. A good thing that is, too.
But within an hour or so Abbott insisted that Turnbull was in fact just Abbott in a Turnbull mask.
The member for Warringah claimed: "The Turnbull government is running on the Abbott government's record and it's a very strong record."
Umm, no it's not, if voters are any guide.
Before Turnbull ousted Abbott, the Fairfax-Ipsos poll opinion showed the Coalition trailing Labor for 14 months straight. The government was behind 44-56 last August; now it's 54-46 the Turnbull government's way. Abbott's popularity rating as prime minister in August was 35 per cent; Turnbull's in October was 68 and is still 61. Abbott was preferred prime minister of 39 per cent of people in August; Turnbull is still preferred by 55 per cent.
A timely reminder to Turnbull about pandering to the Abbott camp: if Abbott had still been leading the nation, we would all be piling all our cash on Shorten to be the nation's new leader.
The Abbott-Credlin-Hockey regime stuffed up big time through an unfair, useless and ideologically charged budget in 2014; bungled economic plans; a focus on culture wars against minorities and the ABC; and plenty of rorted MP expenses. The only memorables with any positives for voters were stopping the boats and ending the carbon tax.
Sure, Turnbull has been forced to keep Abbott supporters on side to quell backbench unrest. But guess what? Turnbull looks weak and shifty because of it.
"I give full credit to Mr Abbott for his success," Turnbull told Melbourne radio 3AW on Tuesday. "I hope that he will be supportive."
Good luck with that.
"There is continuity and there is change," the Prime Minister insisted on the ABC on Monday.
By my reckoning it's been 20 per cent change and 80 per cent continuity – including the appalling dog whistling and hounding of minorities, along with the absence of a clear, cohesive and unified narrative on tax and the economy.
Those proportions need to be switched to 80 per cent change and 20 per cent continuity for Turnbull to increase his majority and be rid of Abbott.
To do that, Turnbull will have to revert to who he was before the Abbott coup. But people are wondering who IS the real Malcolm? More important, they are waiting to see if he has the guts to campaign as himself.
I see only one solution. Turnbull must start distancing himself from Abbott at every opportunity. There is no point in pussyfooting around. An election victory whereby Abbott remains capable of rallying his supporters and undermining Turnbull is no victory at all.
Turnbull should campaign on what he believes rather than what the Abbott camp tells him to. He should promise things that will anger the right; be assertive and not pander to the extremes. This election will not be won by snagging a few extra votes from supporters of George Christensen or Cory Bernardi. It will be won by appealing to the vast sensible centre of the Australian community – you know, the ones who wanted to get rid of Labor so badly they trusted Abbott's "no-no-no" approach. Now most regret it.
Turnbull has a chance to become the leader so many people thought he could be. He needs a decisive mandate to do that. He needs a ready-made defence against the underminers: "The voters knew what I stood for and I now have to deliver, so bugger off."
If Turnbull fails to put the extremes in their place and be himself, then people will realise that a vote for the government is a vote for Abbott – and will start looking more closely at that Shorten bloke instead.
Such is life ...