However the fake email saga plays out, it has provided a revealing contrast in leadership styles between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Simply put, Rudd played a blinder this week. While launching a devastating counter-attack on the Opposition and pulling his Treasurer to safety under cover of its fire, he managed to wow the Spanish royals, continued selling the Government’s schools spending package and, by week’s end, shift back to his regular agenda of nation-building and the economy.

Every Government question in Question Time yesterday, until Tony Burke’s little epilogue on harming cats, was about its normal agenda. Rudd used the Opposition’s own questions to savage them and Turnbull. Tony Abbott looked almost cowed when he tried to ask about an Age beat-up involving John Grant, stressing he was seeking information only and not making any accusations.

It’s clear that Rudd has what Civil War historian Shelby Foote called, in relating to U.S. Grant, “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage”, a capacity to deal with the worst news at the worst time with coolness and detachment, not merely working out how to respond to it but how to turn it to his advantage. In retrospect, Rudd’s performance last Friday evening, when he launched the Government’s defence and raised doubts about what we learned 72 hours later was a faked email, was critical in laying the groundwork for the siege of Malcolm Turnbull that this week turned into.

He calmly but assuredly disputed the email, repeated his central claims, produced documentation to support it, and ended with a joke about having gone to the “quack” and had a cyst removed from his back. For someone who had been accused of corruption and lying, it was a nerveless performance.

This week he has progressively ratcheted up the pressure on Turnbull, first with cold fury on Monday, then a calculated assault on the man’s reputation on Tuesday, switching the focus to Turnbull’s leadership and incapacity to lead his party on Wednesday, before using yesterday to show he was focussed on real issues rather than sleaze. It was a carefully-prepared strategy and it redoubled the damage Turnbull had inflicted on himself when he made the foolish decision to pursue the Prime Minister as well as Wayne Swan.

Despite the mild demeanour, it is apparent Rudd thrives on a challenge. While he had a huge reform agenda, his first few months lacked drive and a theme. The arrival of the financial crisis changed all that and seemingly energised him. His response can be assessed in the country’s ongoing economic performance, and the fact that the Opposition switched to personal attacks. Now Rudd has shown the same cool capacity to deal with a political crisis, one unfolding over hours rather than weeks and months.

Malcolm Turnbull also thrives on a challenge and is undaunted in the face of them. But he has a penchant for high drama that seems ill-suited to good governance. John F. Kennedy reportedly enjoyed reading the James Bond novels. Turnbull seems to like living them, given his preference for cloak-and-dagger stuff. If he’s not summoning Peter Westerway to a clandestine meeting to hand over the goods on Kerry Packer, he’s ambushing a Fairfax director at a meeting with bondholders, swapping death threats with Kerry Packer, talking in code with his British counterpart during Spycatcher – or meeting Godwin Grech at an undisclosed Canberra location to discuss an email.

And this week isn’t the first time Turnbull has got into trouble over problematic evidence. His attempt to sue Costigan Royal Commission counsel Douglas Meagher involved what Turnbull called “significant evidence” that showed Meagher had leaked the “Goanna” material. The bloke to whom it was leaked, Brian Toohey, denies it was Meagher. The Packer action was struck out. Turnbull told Annabel Crabb he couldn’t produce the evidence against Meagher as it would have revealed his source. Sound familiar?

For Turnbull it appears to be as much — or more — about the conflict and the drama than the substance. The clandestine meeting becomes the substitute for the due diligence and reality check; the aggressive assertion of impropriety is preferred over the painstaking assembly of a solid case; the overreaching happens when much is already to be gained. What would this man be like as Prime Minister? How would he get his daily dose of drama except by keeping the country in a permanent tizz?

The Government’s tactical engagement with Turnbull this week reached inspired heights when Anthony Albanese rose and compared him, devastatingly, to Mark Latham. It was funny line, but its real purpose was to reduce Turnbull to a figure of ridicule, a state that few politicians have ever returned from. The same doubts that voters had about Latham’s temperament, his judgement, his lack of detachment, will form in relation to Turnbull if the Government has anything to do with it, even if Turnbull has a dozen times the intellect and real-world experience of Latham.

Of course, all is not lost for Turnbull. He may yet get lucky. U.S. Grant had “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage”, but his presidency was among the worst in American history for cronyism and corruption.