Jacinda Ardern is cool - Bill English isn't. That's a significant challenge for National, but it's not the only challenge it has. National is too establishment. Boring, safe, prudent - but boring. Being fiscally responsible matters - a lot - but does not matter enough to enough people to assure National of another term in Parliament.
The world is rising against the establishment; Trump vs Clinton, Brexit, the UK election result, the rise of Emmanuel Macron in France. National is just too establishment for its own good. Their smug born-to-rule attitude is far too evident in the likes of Chris Finlayson and Nick Smith, and to a lesser extent Simon Bridges. It's a party that does not do humble well.
Hindsight is wise, but one must question the wisdom of National's campaign strategists when the Labour/Green coalition was able to dictate the motivating issues of this election: dirty water, homeless people. It is quite obvious that the red and green Memorandum of Understanding signed in May 2016 had "set the election agenda" as one of its key strategy points. National was either asleep not to sense it, or it has been ineffective about doing something about it. National has surrendered the high ground to their opposition, and has failed to regain it. Instead, they had a strategy of making Bill more personable, and we had ridiculous video-bites of Bill making spaghetti pizza. How foolish to even attempt to transform Bill English into Mr Likeable when he naturally resonates low on the Excitement Meter. There's no shame in that but Bill has a lot going against him on the cool stakes - he's male, heterosexual, conservative, and +50 - credentials that make winning the New Zealand's Got Talent contest a challenge. National's strength is stability and reasonableness. In this election that is mattering less than stardust and teeth whitening - but such is life in the age where voters gain their news from Facebook.
The other reality is that National cannot continue in government after the 23rd without NZ First. And that's another problem for National. Winston Peters has said his first call will be to the party who wins the most party votes. Present polling suggests that will be Labour. NZ First could go either way but there is a good argument to suggest that it is more likely to favour Labour than National, and more so with former Labour cabinet minister Shane Jones as the leader in waiting. Marama Fox from the Maori Party says they have not ruled out working with NZ First now that "Shane Boy" has joined them. A Labour, Maori Party, NZ First coalition is not improbable. As likely is a Labour, Maori Party, Green coalition. Less likely is National, ACT and NZ First.
Ironically the only party National can rely on is ACT, a party that has since winning Epsom in 2005 been unable to lift its appeal. Had ACT remained strong on issues that it promoted during its better times (one law for all, tough on crime) it may well have been able to make inroads on NZ First and regained the support of former voters who have now migrated elsewhere - even former leader Don Brash favours NZ First over ACT. That ACT and National had not come to some sort of understanding on these mattes is unfathomable.
This election is shaping up to be like the recent UK general election - a shift away from boring, and a government wondering what went wrong.