And so it came as something of a surprise that John Key had decided to appear on Campbell Live on Wednesday night, despite his sullen "probably not" response to the programme's repeated invitations.
Maybe his advisers felt the spy bill issue was starting to get some traction in Middle New Zealand. Maybe they sensed that dismissing the bill's opponents as peddlers of "misinformation" rung hollow as long as there was so little informing. Probably they detected that he had begun to look dangerously derisive, sneering and unleaderly in the earlier exchange with Campbell Live reporter Rebecca Wright, in which he deployed the dead-eye stare along with the snapper gambit, dismissing a series of questions on the spy bill with the advice that "more people will watch" if the programme would "switch to snapper". The calculation, it seems, was that it could do him damage among those who might actually vote for him.
So the Prime Minister braved the Campbell Live studio. And he was formidable. There were some evasions, some elisions, and too many soothing assurances that have not in fact been inked into the legislation. But as far as the chess was concerned, Key was masterful, pushing John Campbell on to the defensive, grabbing the initiative, dwelling on issues that suited him because, after all, wasn't this about explaining things properly?
It was a striking reminder of John Key's ability as a political performer. He understands his audience - no, his audiences - as well as any politician in recent times. For a prime minister halfway through the second term, his command is astonishing. Even Campbell, who's seen a few, said it: "You're a brilliant politician."
The great strength of his media performances is the way that every pronouncement has a sort of silent prefix: "Oh, come on, be reasonable". And when his adversaries attack him as a buffoon or a devil - or a "psychopath" in the words of one prominent left-wing blogger reviewing the encounter yesterday - he grows stronger, more reasonable still. If opponents want to go for him personally, they'd be much wiser to cast him as shapeshifter, whatever the mood requires: one day a jovial dork, the next a forgetful bureaucrat, the next a ruthless political operator.
In the meantime, the Labour party has good reason to worry about how they can match him in campaign mode come 2014. Under the old electoral system another landslide would be just about guaranteed. And National's cousins in the Australian Liberal Party must be torn up with envy. I bet they'd swap him for their own daggy leader, Tony "Suppository" Abbott, in a heartbeat.
We wonder which "one prominent left-wing blogger" described Key as a "psychopath." We haven't visited The Standard for a while, and we never bother with The Daily Blog. But we suspect that the answer to our question almost certainly lies at one of the above.
In the meantime, the Left continues to dismiss John Key, to its peril. If the Left wants a third consecutive term in opposition, they should continue with that tactic, because it's working a treat for the PM!