After the weekend, the path to victory has got so narrow that it’s difficult to see him getting through it. Varadkar has 45 parliamentary party members committed to vote for him, which gives him about 44% of the vote under Fine Gael’s electoral college system, meaning that he needs to make up just over 6% from the members and councillors to get a narrow victory, and he can be expected to get a lot more than that.
If he wants to beat the parliamentary party, he needs to get nearly 75% of the councillors and members to back him.
Without the endorsements of their local TDs, and with many treating the race as done and dusted already, that will be difficult.
However, no votes have been cast yet.
Many of the TDs and Senators that were leaning Coveney in the last few weeks saw what way the wind was blowing and backed Varadkar instead.
Coveney has said that he wants to convince them to change their minds. However, getting public u-turns, which would be needed to turn the tide with members and councillors, will be a tough ask.
One answer is that he thinks he still can, but what is more apparent from the weekend is that he thinks that Fine Gael should have an election. If he drops out, members don’t get a two-week debate on the future of their party, with four hustings events around the country, and they may feel less invested in a winner that they didn’t get to vote for. Even if Coveney doesn’t win, he will be seen as the man that gave the party that debate.
Varadkar has only committed to putting one person in his cabinet if elected Taoiseach, and that’s Coveney.
Where he ends up is the big question. Varadkar is smart and he won’t cause further disunity by demoting Coveney to a lower position in Cabinet. If anything, a promotion is more likely. Tanaiste is a possibility, giving Cork its first since Peter Barry briefly served as second in command 30 years ago, but most people expect that someone like Heather Humphreys will be made deputy leader. Coveney may stay in his current department to finish what he set out to do with housing and push out the infrastructure plans he has stressed in his leadership campaign.
Politics at the moment is more volatile than ever before, so how long Varadkar will be leader, if he wins, is unpredictable. A terrible election result could see him fall within two years, with Coveney seen as the obvious choice to succeed him, like Michael Noonan transferring power to Enda Kenny. Or, if he's a hit, he could serve for a decade or more. In ten years time, Coveney would only be in his mid-fifties and would be even more experienced. However, he has said before that he has no intention of staying in politics if he doesn’t feel he is making a difference, so it's hard to predict if he will still be in the Dáil in another decade.