Even if he turns out to be National's saviour in 2023 or 2026, Christopher Luxon's announcement through TVNZ's 1NEWS last night risks sabotaging the party's 2020 campaign.
The situation is similar to when Don Brash suddenly resigned as Reserve Bank governor in April 2002. From that moment, the already struggling 41-year-old Bill English was seen as a mere interim leader, undermining everything he subsequently had to say.
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In the end, of course, English's political acumen and contribution to National and New Zealand turned out to vastly exceed that of Brash.
Whether prompted by him or not, Luxon's long-standing media contacts have already anointed him leader-in-waiting, to the detriment of Simon Bridges' efforts to be seen as a plausible Prime Minister.
Worse is John Key declaring Luxon a "world -class candidate", a term he has not used about any of the existing leadership pool. Labour is certain to make use of Key's greater enthusiasm for Luxon than Bridges, Paula Bennett and Paul Goldsmith between now and the next election.
Last night, Luxon briefing TVNZ's political editor Jessica Mutch of his intention to seek National's Botany nomination was interpreted as signalling he already has enough confirmed delegates to be guaranteed the nod – and perhaps also that he had the secret blessing of the party establishment.
Neither seems to be the case.
The announcement through TVNZ is now seen as either an accident by someone with no political experience or an effort to pressure the party at the electorate and regional level.
Neither approach will have won him many friends in the party. Budding candidates aren't meant to even talk to lofty figures such as TV political editors, let alone make surprise announcements through them.
The manner of Luxon's announcement has already put him offside with his assumed caucus colleagues which may make his anticipated post-election leadership run even more difficult than Brash found in 2003.
But it may not even get that far.
The Botany National Party can be assumed to have more than 200 members which means the selection will be held locally rather than be managed centrally by the party's board.
If Botany has more than 600 members, it is likely the selection will be handled entirely by locals without even any input at the regional level. Given the nature of 21st century politics, these local party members have few other opportunities to actively participate in anything important and guard this power to select candidates jealously. They tend to be particularly contrarian against media expectations.
Luxon has made himself the man to beat in a race for a place in parliament for life and there will be other nominees. They will all have a strong incentive to launch their careers as the new MP who everyday National Party members chose over the former Air New Zealand boss.
The difficulty for the party's wider campaign, though, is that, such has been the hype around Luxon, National risks being lampooned if it doesn't give the anointed one the nod.
Luxon's local, caucus and Labour rivals will all be incentivised to look closely into his beliefs – economic, administrative and religious – to seek plausible reasons to oppose him.
When he quit Air New Zealand, Luxon seemed somewhat ambivalent about which party he preferred and is known to be held in high regard by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose seemingly ineffectual Business Advisory Council he chairs.
He describes himself as a policy centrist.
Those who know Luxon from the business world say he is also a centralist, and suspect, as Prime Minister, he would draw even more power to the Beehive and to his own office.
This may be good news for those who would like to see major breakthroughs on infrastructure but the free-market wing of the party might fear the emergence of a 21st century Muldoon.
Others will worry about his religious views. Very roughly, National prefers its leaders to be non-devout Christians. As in the UK, the Anglican Church was historically seen as the National Party at prayer. The likes of Presbyterians are safe enough too. But even as recently as the late 1980s, Jim Bolger's relatively gentle Catholicism was an issue within the party.
More devout Christians – including Bill English and Bridges – are now perfectly able to reach the top of the party but the understanding is that they keep their personal religious beliefs out of their policy making. For example, they may personally oppose abortion but, consistent with the doctrine of political conservativism, they are expected to accept the status quo.
Brash, despite being an atheist, was seen to have broken this informal rule even with his little dalliance with the Exclusive Brethren in 2005.
For his part, Luxon is known as a passionate member of the evangelical and proselytising Upper Room church which emerged in Tennessee in the 1930s. He attends their services in Newmarket.
Party rivals, the Labour Party and the media will inevitably raise questions about the Upper Room's theology and to what extent it would guide Luxon's policy-making. Is Luxon a conservative in the Bolger, English and Bridges mould? Or will his strong religious beliefs inevitable push him to take a much more radical stance on social issues and seek to reverse the general consensus? Delegates, the wider party and the public will want to know.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland based public relation consultant and lobbyist.