The hour: an age of revolution against the West’s moribund political and cultural establishment, and the mad schemes of multiculturalism and political correctness it has inflicted upon an unwilling populace.
The man: a fearless voice of Australia’s silent majority, who has cast a spell across the land with his assaults on same-sex marriage, and held millions captive in his appearances on The Bolt Report — Cory Bernardi, conservative renegade and senator for South Australia.
That at least is how things look to Bernardi himself, judging by today’s anticipated announcement that his Australian Conservatives will make the leap from Facebook page to Gina Rinehart-bankrolled electoral juggernaut.
Some reports suggest further defections to Bernardi’s new concern might be imminent — in particular, that of radically conservative Queensland MP George Christensen.
If so, Malcolm Turnbull would be in the miserable position, familiar to Julia Gillard, of relying on crossbenchers to sustain his parliamentary majority, even as a drumbeat of disastrous polls saps away what remains of his authority within his party.
However, Christensen’s cagey response to questions of defection suggests that he does actually have ambitions to continue in politics beyond the next election, and he is aware that throwing his lot in with Bernardi’s foolish endeavour would be entirely the wrong way of going about it.
As articulated in his 2013 treatise, The Conservative Revolution, Bernardi’s take on the Australian electorate is that it consists of three elements: leftist radicals, the silent majority and a non-silent minority that speaks on the silent majority’s behalf.
But in a country where 90% of eligible adults show up to vote, it’s self-evident that Bernardi’s majority can’t really be as silent as all that — and it has stubbornly refused to furnish the conservative cause with the permanent majority that Bernardi clearly feels is its due.
This leaves him to fall back on Marxian notions of false consciousness to explain the frequent failure of the majority to vote in accord with its true interests and values.
Further doubts are raised by public opinion research, which offers at least a broadly reliable outline of where the majority, silent or otherwise, stands on Bernardi’s anti-Islam, anti-gay, pro-life and economically conservative outlook.
Certainly there’s no shortage of anti-Muslim sentiment in Western societies today, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Bernardi has, as Homer Simpson said of Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt, “seen an overcrowded market and said ‘me too'”.
Important as concerns about terrorism undoubtedly are to the populist project, they are matched by a conviction that free-market economics has rigged the game against the ordinary worker, to which Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson alike have been duly sensitive.
But in the sphere of economic policy, Bernardi’s stated ambition is to undo what he has called “the great socialist experiment of the last 70 or 80 years” — a position that wipes the floor with anything a major party leader would dare offer in terms of out-of-touch elitism.
In the last decade especially, opinion polls have been unwavering in finding that privatisation, cutbacks to public services and the scaling back of the welfare state are at the very least perceived as having gone too far, to the extent that they were indeed desirable objects in the first place.
The other cornerstones of Bernardi-ism are at best viewed with indifference outside of a Christian conservative movement whose loyalties were available to Donald Trump at a bargain basement price, thanks to its loathing of his Democratic rival.
Anecdotal evidence suggests a number of working-class voters only stayed on the Trump train because they did not believe his conservative positions on matters such as Planned Parenthood were to be taken seriously, given the track record of his personal life.
Whatever else might be said against him, Bernardi offers no such reassurance.
Similarly, there is no evidence that the level of Bernardi’s concern for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage is matched by those who have lately cast their lot with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson, or even that such voters have been immune to the dramatic liberalisation in attitudes towards homosexuality over the past three decades.
Clearly Donald Trump doesn’t think so, having been — in his erratic way — remarkably liberal in his public positioning on the subject.
Unless he can fundamentally reinvent himself, and project the fact to a public that for the most part doesn’t know who he is, Bernardi will left fighting for religious conservative scraps with Family First, the Christian Democratic Party and, closer to the edge, Rise Up Australia.
This is collectively worth maybe 5% of the vote, if you can get it — good for the very occasional upper house seat, but precious little else.
A couple of years ago, an unidentified Liberal MP put it to Sally Neighbour in The Monthly that Bernardi was “a person without any intellect, without any base, and he should really never have risen above the position of branch president”.
Today at least, that’s looking pretty hard to argue with.