What to make of Howard's "annihilation" rhetoric? Like a physician lancing a boil and squeezing out the pus, Howard is taking the pressure out of his cabinet room by boldly articulating what no other minister dares say - the harsh, unpalatable truth.
Labour says this is just more "clever" politics:
"We've had the smear campaign, we've had the fear campaign, we've had the ad campaign and now of course we're getting the underdog campaign."But is that all that's going on here? Fact is, Howard's $111.2 million ad campaign is just warming up, and his alarmist comments about Labour's fiscal irresponsibility indicate there is plenty of fear-mongering still to be done.
In the leadup to the US 2006 mid-term elections, everyone was waiting for the GOP's electoral svengali, Karl Rove, to pull a rabbit out his hat. Any new developments were met with immediate suspicion: "It's another Rove trick!" cried the Dems as the Republicans slid further and further down the polls, wounded by one scandal after another. Then came the elections. The GOP lost control of both the Senate and the House, and Rove's reputation for conjuring magic at the ballot box was destroyed.
Looking back, it's astonishing that no senior voices within the GOP spoke up and demanded immediate action - including some long overdue resignations at the top - before the storm broke. But Bush's GOP machine was built on disciplined adherence to the core. That rigid groupthink, once their greatest strength, has now become their greatest weakness.
Howard's Liberals are in the same position. But in this case the electoral svengali is Howard himself. A fearful, morally bankrupt Cabinet looks to him for leadership. And this is all he's got.
"It's a trick!" cries Labour. I don't think so. This is pure desperation.
The various Liberal factions watch one another like hawks, sharpening their knives behind their backs, wondering when the moment for action will come. Howard knows it. If he can just hold them all off for a few more months, it will be too late to change leaders. That's all that matters to him right now.
It's not his party's annihilation he's worries about. It's his own.