A former adviser to ex-National party leader Todd Muller says Judith Collins should have been promoted to leadership sooner and calls Simon Bridges the "most unpopular senior political figure in the English-speaking world".
Muller succeeded in his coup, but his tenure lasted only 53 days before he stepped down for mental health reasons, paving the way for Judith Collins to take over.
However, the low poll numbers have not recovered, with the latest Colmar Brunton poll putting National just one point higher than the May poll - on 31 per cent, trailing behind Labour's 48 per cent.
Hooton, who took on an advisory role with Muller, told Newstalk ZB's Heather du Plessis-Allan he does not regret backing Muller.
He said that it was necessary to replace Bridges, as the private polling was worse than the public polling.
"Bridges was literally the most unpopular senior political figure in the English-speaking world. The public decided they did not want him to be Prime Minister."
Muller was the only possible candidate in May, Hooton said. He revealed that Collins and Muller attempted to roll Bridges in April 2019, with Collins as a leader and Muller as deputy, but they couldn't get the numbers.
Hooton served as an adviser for Muller, describing it as being a "chief friend". Despite that, Hooton was not aware of Muller's deteriorating mental health as leader.
He says Muller began having panic attacks within days of becoming the Party's new leader, but he didn't tell Hooton or the party's chief of staff.
The ordeal was "a real lesson for all of us, particularly middle-aged male, as it is mental health week", Hooton said.
"And he could have said he had these panic attacks, what the hell do I do, and we would have seen him off to his GP, and a week of Prozac and he'd be better," he said.
When Collins took over, there was an offer for him to stay, but Hooton said there was nothing for him to do under the new leadership.
He denied, though, that there was any frostiness between them. In fact, Hooton said that Collins is the right person for the job, and Bridges should have never been in the job.
"She should have become leader when English stood down. She even possibly should have become prime minister when Key stood down."
However, Hooton said National's secret polling shows there's a segment of the population who loves Jacinda Ardern so much - that if Judith Collins were to lay in to her too hard, even National supporters won't vote blue.
"If they criticise Ardern too harshly, they will actually go down. There are other people who want her to get stuck into Ardern, but there are good reasons not to."