COMMENT

If I were Simon Bridges right now, I'd be quaking in my boots. He reminds me somewhat of a souped-up old Nissan Skyline, just a few burnouts away from a painful crushing.

With every disastrous poll result he seems to crumple and buckle even further, however much he may try to hide it with bravado. Judith Collins, by contrast, looks more and more like the Cheshire Cat.

In the great National Party leadership race of 2018, I have to admit that I was Team Crusher. I doubt I could ever be accused of being a National voter, so given I'd never have to vote for her, I was all for Collins taking over the National Party.

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We see eye to eye on very little, but I can't help but respect her. She's an unashamed feminist (there's none of this Paula Bennett "most days I'm a feminist" malarkey), she pulls no punches, and she's unapologetically shrewd. Indeed, there's only one politician in Parliament who is wilier, tougher and more adept at making a comeback.

Though she and Winston Peters aren't exactly what you'd call bosom buddies, they're made of similar stuff. They're similarly difficult to contain, fiendishly hard to control, and impossible to get rid of.

Next to those two battle-worn, nine lives-possessing veterans, it's difficult to see Bridges as anything other than a feckless bantam who wandered into the foxes' den.

I wonder if he realises that he's the fall guy. His dead eyes suggest he might. When National inevitably loses the next election, he's perfectly poised to be cast as the scapegoat. He'll be the one to take the blame. His demise will offer them a fresh start; at which point, Crusher will be expertly positioned to take up the reins.

Whether or not she'll be able to unify the party and appeal to the swing voters is another story. She has the opposite problem to Bridges. Though he leaves voters lukewarm, she inspires strong reactions. As her colleague Anne Tolley recently told Newshub, "you either love her or you hate her". Add into the equation an increasingly popular Prime Minister, and the challenge of turning National's nose-diving favourability around becomes even more difficult.

As John Key well knew, modern voters elect people who they like. While Collins' outranking of her leader in the preferred Prime Minister stakes may portend the end of the road for Bridges, it will take a lot more to dull the lustre of Jacinda Ardern. Though Collins would undeniably make a strong opponent, her brand of toughness would be no match for Ardern's forward thinking, warmth and relatability.

Key was famously touted as the "bloke you'd want to have a beer with", and I suspect Ardern is quickly becoming the woman you'd want to have a cuppa with. She's attained the kind of cult of personality that few politicians manage, and as it was with "Teflon John", it will no doubt serve as a shield when the going gets rough.

It's a tough act to go up against, especially when you're a polarising figure. It's hard to take on an opponent who, despite their detractors' best efforts, most people seem to like.

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But should National throw in the towel, crush the bantamweight boy racer and unleash Collins before the next election?

Doing so could mark an eerily deja vu role reversal between the two major parties and lead them into bloodbath territory. Labour's long cannibalistic winter in opposition will no doubt be front of mind for National Party strategists. The question they'll need to answer will be whether voters will baulk more at an underperforming leader or perceived instability within the caucus.

If Bridges' low favourability ratings continue, however, voters will likely start wondering when he will fall on his own sword, or when a Brutus will emerge from the fray to put him out of his misery.

For what it's worth, I believe Collins will be far too clever to put herself forward before the election to take over the role of sacrificial lamb. She has no fear of opposition. You could even say she's in her element making life difficult both for government ministers and her own party leadership.

She knows what it is like to fall from grace, and she's smarter for it. She's a survivor, and if she makes a bid for leadership, it'll be a calculated one.

The next six months are going to be interesting. While Bridges can and will likely hold on for the short term, if things don't start improving rapidly, he'll likely be destined for the scrapheap of broken political dreams. He is vulnerable, and from the outside at least, the wheels appear to be wobbling.

What good is a boy racer, you might ask, if he can't ultimately win the race?