I first met Muller at a National Party conference in 1993. He had just completed a stint as President of the Waikato Students Union, and had joined Jim Bolger’s office as an adviser.
Muller was an imposing figure. He stood head and shoulders above most, but would lean in and hold your gaze and speak softly, and listen and engage respectfully even with lowly young trouble-makers. He had an avuncular authority that defied his 25 years. I would not describe it so crudely as charisma, but his ability to make every person he met feel important, made him a person of unmistakable presence.
Muller was always at Bolger’s side, and invariably mistaken for the PM’s bodyguard.
Heh and in Dunedin he acted as one. Off memory (may be fallible) Sue Bradford burst into the church service Bolger was at, and Todd tackled her in the aisle and evicted her. Made him even more popular.
Over the years many those who have known Muller and recognised his leadership material came to write him off. He had bottled his chance to succeed early, they said. He didn’t have the hunger, they said. He had missed his opportunity, they said. When given the chance again, he wouldn’t have the mongrel, they said.
I was one of them, and I was wrong. As events have shown this week, Muller has all those things. The opportunity, a global pandemic that has thrown the New Zealand economy into a spiralling may-day call, has consumed the National Party leadership. And it is the unique set of circumstances that has gifted it to Muller.
Muller has a unique set of attributes. He exudes reassurance at a time when the country is in crisis. He has an optimism and confidence in New Zealand at a time when the public needs hope for the future. Conservative by nature, but not thumpingly so, he has an eye for pragmatism and results.
Todd Muller is no Jacinda Ardern. He does not have her communication polish. But before she was elected leader of the Labour Party, Jacinda Ardern was no Jacinda Ardern.
This election is now game-on. And anyone who writes Muller off now risks making the same mistake that too many of us have over the last five years.
The fact the left are trying to create a controversy over the fact he has US political memorabilia in his office suggests they are keen to try and spike him.