Scott Morrison’s beloved team could save new PM
SCOTT Morrison faces an uphill battle at the next election.
The new PM will have to navigate a number of forces working against him. The turmoil of the leadership spill might undo any benefits accrued from ousting Malcolm Turnbull.
Labor will no doubt exploit the divisions within the Liberal Party.
Adding to Mr Morrison's woes, an ambitious right-wing faction of the Liberal Party won't stay quiet for much longer after it's frontman Peter Dutton narrowly lost the leadership vote.
But the most important challenge the new PM must overcome is his lack of familiarity with the average Australian voter.
The first Newspoll after the leadership spill showed Bill Shorten shooting ahead of Mr Morrison in the preferred PM contest.
Most Australians know the name Scott Morrison, but do they know Scott Morrison, the man?
It's quite rare for political leaders to have to acquaint themselves with their constituents while in office. Most have to go through something called an election. Remember those?
Over the coming months, Mr Morrison will try to build a rapport with the people of Australia and in particular, the people of Queensland who have lost faith in the Liberal Party.
The new PM's greatest asset in his quest to earn affection and respect from the Australian people could be that he is the number-one ticket holder of the Cronulla Sharks.
The Cronulla Sharks need Scott Morrison and Scott Morrison needs the Cronulla Sharks. Let me explain.
Building a reputation was never a challenge for Mr Morrison's predecessors. Before becoming PM, Tony Abbott was well known as one of the most effective opposition leaders in Australian history.
Malcolm Turnbull benefited from just as much fame. The Australian people already knew Mr Turnbull from his decades in the political spotlight.
Mr Morrison, on the other hand, is unknown to many Australians. In particular, he's unknown to apolitical voters who typically decide their vote depending on the "vibe" of the party leader, rather than any concrete policy disposition.
The man known as "ScoMo" must build his reputation from scratch. His identity, persona and public image will be constructed on the fly. And it will be constructed in such a way that appeals to conservative voters in Queensland, who were going to abandon the Liberal Party had Mr Turnbull survived.
It's unsurprising that one of the first things Mr Morrison did as PM was announce a visit to meet Queensland's drought-stricken farmers. That's not a coincidence. It's an immediate recognition that the Liberal Party has a problem with One Nation and the populist right "stealing" votes from them up north.
For this leadership debacle to actually mean something, Mr Morrison must separate himself from Mr Turnbull and regain the seats Mr Turnbull would have lost. We don't know how Mr Morrison will market himself, but we do know to expect something different.
If Mr Morrison simply copies the style and policy direction of his predecessor, everyone will inevitably ask: what was the point of this whole drama?
Mr Morrison could start by differentiating himself from his predecessor by his favourite sport: rugby league. It's a symbolic difference that could actually mean something.
In 2016, Mr Turnbull declared AFL "the most exciting football code". Big mistake.
Mr Morrison can use his love for rugby league to his advantage. He should avoid any and all games of AFL like the plague.
Any game held in Melbourne should be an especially massive red flag for the new PM - something Malcolm Turnbull clearly didn't understand.
Rugby league, the "working man's game", is the way to go for the new PM. AFL, the game of wealthy, city-slicker, lefty Melburnians should be avoided at all costs. These stereotypes aren't perfect, but perception is everything.
Mr Morrison's support for the Cronulla Sharks won't win him the election, but the differences between rugby league and Aussie rules serve as a great metaphor for how he should distance himself from Mr Turnbull.
If Mr Morrison learns anything from his predecessor, it should be that perception is everything. Perception and ideology ended Malcolm Turnbull's political career.
Mr Turnbull's intimidating professionalism hurt his standing among large numbers of Australians who couldn't relate to his calculated cadence. He had a "vibe" that made any attempt at banter with everyday Australians look fake.
When he rolled up his sleeves, wearing a pair of RM Williams boots and an Akubra, something looked just a little … off.
Mr Turnbull's perception as an over-achieving, AFL-following elitist couldn't be shaken. And neither could his perception as a lefty in Liberal Party clothing, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Mr Turnbull underestimated how deep-rooted the culture war is in political discourse nowadays. It's front and centre in the minds of conservative voters who want to see their leader reject globalism and celebrate patriotism.
For many conservative voters, Mr Turnbull's silence on culture war debates said everything. Conservative voters cared more about what Malcolm Turnbull wasn't, rather than what he was.
His prime ministership ultimately ended after his colleagues began to believe that the Liberal Party needed a culture warrior: Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison, two socially conservative former immigration ministers.
Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal Party lost the voters that Donald Trump, if he were Australian, would have won. Mr Turnbull acted as though the Trump phenomenon was contained within the borders of the United States. It's not.
Peter Dutton knows that, and I think Scott Morrison does too.
Let me be clear: Mr Morrison is no Donald Trump (thank God). But he's no Malcolm Turnbull either.
Trumpian voters are here in Australia as well. And Morrison's socially conservative values place him in a better position to appeal to them.
A little State of Origin banter won't hurt either.
Follow Luke Kinsella on Twitter @luke_kinsella