Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has praised Prime Minister for doing "a seriously good job" and rejects that "woke rust" has rubbed off on her.
But his kind words stopped there as he unleashed on "coward" journalists, the "woke movement", the polls and "left-wing fascism".
Peters made the comments in a 45-minute, wide-ranging interview with the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun which covered his thoughts on China, the Black Lives Matter protests and Ardern.
Peters called the woke movement "very concerning" because it implied previous generations "had no values worth respecting at all".
He said he'd seen an example of it in Australia criticising Captain Cook and blaming him for colonialism.
"But before the first settlement of Australia ever began by Europeans out of the UK, Captain Cook was dead.
"And so when you don't understand history and you launch attacks like that, you open yourself up to be described an ignoramus - and worse than that, an arrogant one as well.
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"And so my view when people say my view, my values are more important than yours and I'm going to tear down the statue ... then you know what you're up against. But it's like rust, in some ways.
"They never sleep and they're in the certain echelons of the influence. You've got to be on red alert, eyes wide open, to ensure they don't succeed because it has this awful parallel with fascism, so to speak.
"If they don't agree then they'll seek to take you down, not with argument, but with marginalisation and dare I say it Cinderella-isation of your views and your personality."
The reporter then asked Peters whether he thought some of the "woke rust" had rubbed off on Ardern but the Deputy Prime Minister came to her defence.
"I wouldn't say that in that context. She's very genuine, very, very intelligent person and someone who does know how to seriously analyse policy. And she's someone not immune to listening to others sharing their views.
"When she became Prime Minister you could have said we were taking a serious risk with someone who had no experience in Government.
"But I knew what I was dealing with - someone who would do, given the chance and with someone with a lot of experience around her, a seriously good job. I think Covid has shown dramatically what a fine leadership job she has done."
The comments are a contrast to what he said about his Cabinet colleagues last month when he said he'd "never had three years so difficult".
He said it was difficult to "manage circumstances when you're surrounded by plain inexperience".
But Peters told The Sun Ardern had kept her eye on the ball with Covid-19.
"What we've called the 'tyranny of distance' has become the 'liberty of distance' because we've been cut off as an island nation and that's been a lucky circumstance for us.
"But keeping our eyes on the prize and staying on focus and getting an army of 5 million people to stick to the plan is the reason why she's so popular ... as Ronald Reagan said, 'you can't argue with success'."
But he said there was no use wondering why some of Ardern's popularity hadn't rubbed off on himself and NZ First.
"No one talks about Rudolph the Reindeer - it's Santa Claus they talk about."
The party's popularity has hovered around 2 per cent in this year's polls, which would put New Zealand First out of Parliament after the election.
Peters said his party had been the victim of "a vicious campaign run by certain sections of the media".
"I'm confident of where we'll be on election night and where we are now, and it's most certainly not on 2 percent."
He called journalists "cowards" and said they finished every article with "you can never write Winston Peters off" so they didn't have to fly a white flag on election night.