It’s a big week for Peter Costello. The
Prime Minister is away. He gets to sit in the big chair.

“Costello, I think,
would make a formidable Prime Minister,” Matt Price wrote in yesterday’s Sunday
The “I think” is a curious qualifier. Yet it’s a qualifier you need to have.

No one doubts the Treasurer’s
abilities. Michelle Grattan was generous yesterday:

The Howard trip
has been a great chance for Costello and he is relishing it. It is providing
him with the opportunity to display the whole suite of his skills – gladhander
on the road, listening to people; economic salesman to the big end of town;
parliamentary master of rhetoric and rapier-like wit.

Yet at the same time, Kerry-Anne Walsh was
picking over his “inferior traits” and what they mean for the would-be PM:

Those are
immature edges to the Treasurer that don’t appeal to MPs who, even if they
don’t much like the Prime Minister, like even less the idea of such traits in
their future leader. If he can keep a
lid on those sorts of extremes, it could be a week the doubters have been
looking for.

The simplest way of putting it is this.
Peter Costello is a master of politics but, unlike John Howard, he is not a
master of the politics of politics. That’s why he remains three steps away from
filling the PM’s chair all the time.

He is still to convince the Prime Minister
he can be trusted with the responsibilities of leadership. He is still to
convince his parliamentary colleagues. He is still to convince voters.

Costello should be able to do it. I think.