From Bernard Keane, doyen of the Fake Left today:
Naturally all this will be seen through the prism of Turnbull versus Abbott. But Abbott is no longer the heir apparent — or challenger apparent — for many in the right. The mantle has fallen on the gormless shoulders of Peter Dutton, now viewed by many as the best replacement for Turnbull if and when continued poor polling results in his knifing later this year. Dutton has been railing at Muslims and trying to sound tough on immigration in an effort to cultivate a Trumpesque persona, but it’s not so much that posturing that has driven his rise as Abbott’s ongoing alienation of his colleagues. His constant destabilisation has turned off many MPs who otherwise might have backed Abbott off the former leader.
In that context, Abbott’s interview and “manifesto” (which, characteristically for Abbott, is entirely about stopping things, not anything positive, because negativity is his strength) are less a direct challenge to Turnbull than a cri de coeur to his former followers who have shifted to Dutton to look again at the man they once loyally backed. Forget Dutton, Abbott is saying — I’m the real thing when it comes to right-wing populism.
The problem for Abbott, however, is that this is just more of the same destabilisation and undermining of the government that he’s been doing for many months, and it will likely simply drive whatever is left of his support within the party away. And it’s now a Melbourne Cup field to win the right-wing, anti-immigration populist race: Abbott, Dutton and Cory Bernardi are all competing in the Trump Stakes, but they’re up against a proven champ in Pauline Hanson, the original and best when it comes to hating immigrants and Muslims.
So Abbott comes out of this damaged still further; it hasn’t helped Turnbull either, except to the extent that it further weakens his rival. The big winner is Peter Dutton, who ever more clearly emerges as the right’s preferred replacement when the time comes.
Anything is possible, I guess, but if we have reached the level of Peter Dutton as PM then the Coalition had better prepare for electoral annihilation. Though his days as Immigration Minister will enable him to cut it without appearing too cynical, Dutton is atrocious in pretty much every way including a charisma sinkhole.
I remain of the view that self-interest will still elevate Abbott first. It doesn’t matter if anyone likes him. They all hated Turnbull. Abbott was an obviously inept PM but broader circumstances have clearly swung towards his thuggish external and sloganeering agenda and he was at least elected, lending him some semblance of legitimacy.