Recent events suggest the National Party is facing a crisis. This apparent crisis has become more evident since Barnaby Joyce resigned as party leader.
Historically, the Nationals have survived and prospered when they have had authoritative leaders, who have been able to both differentiate the National brand from their Liberal partners and to achieve substantial policy achievements which benefit their constituents.
Now, however, the party faces an existential crisis. A deepening divide has emerged between those who I will call the 'traditionalists' and their more 'moderate' colleagues. This divide is both geographical and ideological. Most Queensland Nationals and a few south of the border are traditionalists - often epitomised by their negative remarks about progressive climate change measures and fierce defence of the mining sector. Many of these MPs and Senators adhere to conservative social values and most were anti-Turnbull.
The 'moderates', if I could call them that, are more progressive on many social issues than their mostly northern colleagues.
In the current context, the major issue facing the Nationals is leadership. Joyce's successor, Michael McCormack, is clearly failing to cut through with a forceful, independent National Party voice. His deputy, Brigid McKenzie, has been no help. McCormack is in an invidious position.
Personally, in order to survive as leader, he has to isolate Barnaby Joyce without alienating Joyce's northern allies, project an image of differentiation from the Liberals during the election campaign and hope former National Party voters don't turn out with baseball bats on election day.
Many academics and other commentators have written the National Party off before, but I am not arguing that this is now imminent, just a continuation of a long-term trend. The current divisions in the party are, though, the most serious since the infamous 'Joh for PM' campaign, in 1987.
Declining demographics in National Party constituencies, and challenges from high-profile local independents will continue to plague the Nationals.
The National Party, at federal level, is at a crossroad. It can reject the hard-line views of its northern ideologues, or it can try to neutralise those views in order to retain their vulnerable seats south of the Queensland border. Either way, the May election will be the biggest challenge the party has faced in decades and may well determine the future direction of the National party.