For National's leadership, the remaining weeks to the election must stretch ahead like a marathon stretches ahead of an unfit runner: long, painful, slim chance of a win.
Possibly, that election marathon looks harder and more painful after this shambles of a week.
That's a word Todd Muller likes to use. Shambles. He likes to throw that at Labour as an adjective to describe the Government's recent handling of the Covid response. Quite rightly. It has been a shambles. From Thelma and Louise's road trip, to the half dozen who ran away from the Hamilton gang tangi, the testing that wasn't happening, the isolation that wasn't happening and the fence-breaching, it's been a bit of a shambles.
But the word "shambles" surely can't be used by Muller any more. At least not with a straight face.
And that is one of the biggest losses for him this week: the loss of his best line of attack. It's not wise to cry "shambles" when your opponents can simply lift a metaphorical mirror and remind you what a shambles your own party has been, and how a junior MP in your own party helped to worsen that shambles with an unwise privacy leak.
The other loss is the hobbling of one of Muller's best MPs. From the moment health spokesman Michael Woodhouse revealed Thelma and Louise's "kisses and cuddles", he has done an outstanding job of prosecuting the Government's health response. He's now severely dented by the revelation he deleted Michelle Boag's emails on the very day the Michael Heron QC inquiry was called.
If this was the only problem Muller's had to deal with, he might still be able to use the word "shambles". But he's had too many problems in his short tenure as leader. And, mostly, they're whoopsies he should've foreseen, dealt with better or dealt with faster: the MAGA hat, the too-white front bench, and now the Hamish Walker privacy leak.
Walker's leak could've been a gift to Muller. Rogue MPs begging for a sacking are a gift to leaders looking to establish their strength and decisiveness to voters. So — as dirty as Walker's error appeared — Muller could've used it to his advantage if he'd acted quickly and cut Walker loose immediately, condemned Boag's actions immediately and revealed the emails to Woodhouse immediately.
Instead Muller himself compounded this into a nearly week-long story that has potentially tainted even his own credibility.
First obvious mistake: an apparent intention to keep Walker on as an MP. In his first statement on Tuesday, Muller described the leak as an error of judgment and stripped Walker of his shadow portfolios pending the outcome of the Heron inquiry. That suggests the possibility Walker would survive.
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Second obvious mistake: he withheld for three days the knowledge that Woodhouse had also received leaked information from Boag. Instead of dealing with all the bad news in one go, Muller took the risk of drawing out the bad news cycle. Which came to pass.
Third obvious mistake: on Thursday, on camera, he denied Boag was a Woodhouse source and denied talking to Woodhouse. The confession that Boag was a Woodhouse source and that Muller had in fact talked to Woodhouse came the very next day. So, Muller opened himself up to criticism of a lack of full honesty.
At some point, Muller risks looking so incapable of handling political curveballs that he could make the Government's handling of quarantine facilities look good. At that point, the public stops listening.
Muller must be hoping he hasn't reached that point yet because if he has, that marathon to September 19 gets a lot lonelier and the chances of a win slimmer.
Heather du Plessis-Allan hosts Drive on Newstalk ZB, weekdays, 4pm-7pm