He turned up to lunch in a white shirt, to eat dumplings. It was only three weeks ago and there he was, confident, relaxed, nothing to say for himself. But, I'll say it for him, he did not make a mess on that shirt front. Todd Muller is a man who can handle chopsticks.
Was he wishing last week that he'd kept hold of them, to poke a few people with?
Or is that what it was really like? Confident, relaxed, not really sure what it was he wanted to say?
Who was this guy? At their suggestion, I had a get-to-know-you lunch with Todd Muller and his deputy Nikki Kaye last month.
He did believe in decency. It came off him in waves and that's a good thing in a politician. He looked me in the eye when I talked about the value of warm, dry homes and said, "I believe that."
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But the thing about decency is that it's not uncommon. Most of us are reasonably decent. Most politicians are too, for that matter.
What counts is whether you put your decency to good use. Whether you use it as a platform for policy. Whether you use it to define the tone, and not just make bad things look better than they really are.
New Zealand's own classic decency moment came on election night in 1990, when the victorious new PM Jim Bolger told the nation his Government would establish a "decent society". A grand thing to say. Within months his finance minister Ruth Richardson had produced her "mother of all budgets", with savage cuts to welfare and other spending.
As a young man, Muller worked for Bolger. He learned his politics, alongside his adviser Matthew Hooton, in Bolger's office. What he should have learned is that personal decency is not enough.
He was like a blind man who thinks the sun is always shining, because someone's holding a warm light over his head. He believed he was born to rule but then found out he wasn't. With his front-bench picks he revealed he didn't see his own privilege, so didn't understand the concerns of the less privileged.
He told us he hated the politics of nastiness and presided over some of the nastiest politics we have seen in some time.
Muller's favourite phrase, rolled out repeatedly as one scandal, controversy, oddity followed another, was: I will have nothing more to say on this.
Shut it down with a dismissive comment and it will go away. Turns out it's harder than it looks. Each time, in the hours and days after he said it, he had to explain away something more. He said it again in his resignation announcement.
His greatest sin? It wasn't that he could not shut down the problem. He could not stop the problem from starting up. He could not inspire us to see the bigger picture. He did not have a bigger picture, or did not seem to. He could not, in any real sense, lead.
Anyone want to talk about the road? he asked about a pointless policy announcement in Christchurch last week. No.
At our lunch three weeks ago, he said he was no stranger to the stress of decision-making under fire. He talked about being an executive at Fonterra in 2013, when botulism was discovered in its powdered milk products and China blocked imports: a trade worth $1.9 billion a year.
I asked if that was his fiery crucible and he said, well yes, but it wasn't the only one. Fronting up to angry farmer meetings was pretty tough too.
I watched him once, a couple of years ago, working the room at a National Party conference. It was a crowded session on climate change and agriculture, back when he was climate change spokesperson, and there were a lot of angry people. Quite a few were good farmers, determined to take their responsibilities as guardians of the land seriously, upset that liberal city greenies didn't understand. Quite a few others were straight out denialists.
Very few grasped the need for a Climate Change Commission or Government controls on agricultural emissions. Muller was a leader, not a follower, he stuck his neck out on that issue.
In the meeting he was a reassuring voice, leaning in, hand on the back of a chair, sharing jokes, calming the room. He was with them, not against them, he was nudging them along. A skilled operator.
In the election campaign all that deserted him. At our lunch he spoke in slogans ("The recovery has to be business-led" and "You can't have farming without environmental limits") and expected me to think that was good enough.
What did he learn that undid him?
The scandal of how some of his party members handled private information about Covid patients: did it rock him? The misuse of the information, the fact senior people were not keeping him informed, his inability to come clean about it, the shock of realising he didn't know how to handle the crisis.
In that Christchurch speech last week, he tried to say the Government's economic planning for post-Covid was a shambles, but admitted he'd have taken the same approach. More than the scandals, did he discover he didn't know why he was doing this?
And what did we learn? Corporate managers don't necessarily make good political leaders. Actually, we've been reminded: there's no background that inevitably prepares you well for high office.
Experience is valuable but only if you use it well. Character – having values and the courage to stand by them – is essential to good leadership, although it's not enough on its own. A sense of purpose is good, but dangerous if you believe you've been ordained.
Good judgment – the ability to decide what's important, be guided by principle and actually make decisions. That's vital.
And so is personality. Nice guys, like nice girls, don't have to finish last. We have Jacinda Ardern as proof of that. You should want us to like you, and Todd Muller knew that. It's why he came to lunch.
But you should also want us to be inspired by you. To feel confident about you. To have us believe your words match your deeds. Being friendly is good. Being good with chopsticks is just fine too. But it's not good enough.