No, honestly, National really did seem to be serious about a coalition with the Greens
OPINION: Perhaps laughing was the wrong reaction.
But when various National Party courtiers started spinning the idea of a National-Green coalition I assumed they were laughing along. Even when temporary deputy prime minister Paula Bennett gave the idea legs, I assumed happy mischief was at play, rather than any serious expectation.
Then when National pollster David Farrar mooted Green Party leader James Shaw as finance minister, along with a poultice of portfolios and policy concessions, the shark had been well and truly hurdled.
I had imagined they were all toasting each other and sniggering about how they had forced it on to the agenda as a tale of Green intransigence, not National desperation, and at the same time wound up the Greens and their activists.
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But even after Shaw effectively binned the idea the chat is still running inside National, though now with a tinge of regret
So could it be that they were not just trying to wrong-foot Peters (that would never work anyway) or weaken his hand? Maybe they were not just trolling the Greens and testing how much influence they had ("Teal deal" – it even rhymes; brilliant!) and how they had jerked the media's strings.
Perhaps they were not simply trying to destabilise the Labour-Green relationship – and hence the possibility of a deal between them and NZ First – by zooming in on its weak spot.
What if they really believed it could happen? What if they believed an ultimate triumph of single-engined pragmatism – you have the numbers, why not use them? – could actually fly in 2017?
Of course there are compelling reasons why some in National would want it to happen.
Most of its previous allies have disappeared from the House.
Only ACT's David Seymour remains and he seems to be living inside a perspective-distorting bubble, believing he would have won Epsom even without a National endorsement – to the point of taking personal swipes at reporters for stating the blindingly obvious.
If he truly believes that, then the proof is in his own hands; plead with National next time not to steer voters his way but to run a full-on campaign for the seat.
So, in the absence of any other allies for National, let's take the notion of a Green tie-up seriously.
Let's forget those farmers in Morrinsville. And let's accept that the party of farmers and businesses would embrace the "loony" Greens to avoid the evil clutches of Winston Peters.
Then let's forget that for nine years, and more, National has been using the Greens as the bogy men of politics; one of the main reasons people should not vote Labour.
Let's forget that in National folklore they have been dope-smoking, RMA-hugging, farmer-taxing, welfare-enabling, SIS-dismantling, Iraq-deployment-loathing, Hager-loving, cow-culling, mining-denying, climate change-obsessive, growth-curbing, railroading, motorway-rejecting anti-free trade peaceniks. And not very bright or realistic either.
Let's draw a green veil over the fact that there would be a similarly-unflattering list of National traits from the Green side.
There is also the fact that 75 per cent of the Green membership would have to approve it ... a constitutional rule designed to stop just such a thing as a leader tacking with the changing wind.
Whenever a cosier deal with National has been floated – such as when Nandor Tanczos ran for co-leader against Russel Norman – it has been rejected.
Anyone who has ever been to a Green Party annual conference and a National one will have seen the chasm of values between them. That cannot be easily bridged by an appeal to pragmatism, juicy policy concessions and the reminder of how long the Greens have been out of government.
To be fair to National, Shaw could have ruled it out unequivocally much earlier.
That was likely not just about being polite and hearing out the prime minister.
From his point of view there are upsides to the rumours. He has mused in the past about the possibility of abstention if the Greens are cut out of government by Labour under pressure from NZ First.
It is a way to leverage Labour and to let Peters know he cannot automatically dial into power at their expense.
But that is a very long way from a full-on coalition with National.
Most importantly, though, a "teal deal" would be a brazen betrayal of everything the Greens had said – and much of what National had said too.
Campaign promises and undertakings do mean something.
Arguing that a promise to "change the government" would be fulfilled by a National-Green affair being a "new" administration is pure sophistry. Peters tried that argument when he went with National in 1996. If he believed it, few others did and he had not made anywhere near as big a deal of "changing the government" as the Greens have.
And if the Greens went that way, you would have to pity them campaigning in 2020 ... for what? A fifth-term National-led government?
Labour would eat their support base for breakfast even if the Green Party survived the experience.
But as Otago law professor Andrew Geddis astutely puts it, all this talk is less about the next two weeks, and more about the next three years.
There may well be a strong appetite for a blue-green offering in New Zealand. Certainly the feedback in the past few days, mostly from the centre-right, suggests that.
Maybe that could be a new Teal Party, but not this Green one.
The Greens may well try, not for the first time, to shift their "confidence and supply" positioning to allow for deal-making with National.
But if they do, and National wants to change its stance towards them too, then the public has the right to expect some notice.
If National is serious about a deal with the Greens in 2020 it needs to radically de-tune its anti-Green rhetoric – and perhaps that is what all this is really about.
But that is three years down the track.
For now we have all had a chuckle and, in the vacuum before talks start in earnest, a chance to navel-gaze about shifting alignments.
Now let's get back to reality and Saturday's special vote count.
Then the serious negotiations can start next week over either a National-NZ First deal or a Labour-NZ First-Green government.