It's possible there's a level of sympathy for Simon Bridges lately.
Cut free of the burden of leadership, he's bounced back and reminded us just how good a politician he can be. He's scored
headlines, strolled with yaks, and shown a bit of humour.
And cut free of his leadership, National's had the opposite experience. Its popularity has crashed.
We can argue the toss over how much credit Bridges can take for that high rating and whether it would've held to the election, but our arguments would be based entirely on assumptions. What we can't dispute is that Bridges did hold the party in the 40s until Covid struck, and that the polling has never been back there since his departure from the leadership. Worse, National hasn't been this unpopular in 19 years.
So some possibly feel Bridges has copped a rough deal.
But sympathy only extends so far, and it is also possible that he is pushing it with his unabashed display of disloyalty this week.
Bridges looked too much like he was enjoying causing trouble. He's smart enough to know that when he says "I support Judith Collins at this time," the media will obsess over the last three words.
He took a risk reportedly telling Newshub's Duncan Garner "I'll give her as much support as she gave me as the leader". He obviously took too much of a risk. The statement was reported. Did he care?
This overt disloyalty came only days after reports emerged that some within the party have been discussing the possibility of a Luxon-Bridges ticket. The rumours reaching some are of Christopher Luxon as leader, with Bridges as deputy. The rumours reaching others are of the reverse.
It's no secret Luxon is as keen as a bean on the party leadership, and a combo with Bridges would be — at least on paper — a clever move. It'd be a unity ticket. Luxon would be seen as a peacemaker, Bridges would bring his political instinct.
But the leadership talk did the opposite of appearing unifying. The pair of them — attached only really through the rumours in recent weeks — looked disruptive. It prompted media questions, overshadowed National's worthy housing policy announcement and distracted from Chris Bishop's excellent work exposing another government MIQ shambles.
Neither Bridges nor Collins are publicly confirming it, but it's been made known that he copped a telling off in a Tuesday caucus meeting. Curiously, there were two caucus meetings that day; normally, there's only one.
Luxon, according to the report, avoided a telling off, but then he hasn't been disloyal. He's only loud-speakered his ambition and that's no crime.
You can't blame Bridges or Luxon for each separately — or perhaps together — readying themselves for life after Collins' leadership. She most likely can't win an election after the brand damage she suffered during the last campaign.
It is almost inevitable that Collins will go. Even she must realise that now. And the flatness of her performances lately suggests she does.
But, there is a way to go yet before Collins' time is up. Mostly, that's because her heir apparent doesn't appear to be ready. Luxon might have an impressive CV and really cool shots of him walking slo-mo through Parliament on his Facebook account but he's only been there half a year.
He hasn't scored any political wins of note. He doesn't appear to have even asked a question in the House yet. It's not as if he's short of fodder. He's got the local government portfolio, and councils around the country are in disarray, running out of money and running down their infrastructure.
Inevitability does not invite disruption. By trying to torch the house he might well want to (in part) inherit, Bridges is making a rebuild for National that much more difficult. Plus, to earn any respect from colleagues and supporters he might not want to squander that sympathy.