Launching the DUP’s Assembly election campaign in a Dundonald cinema, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described it gravely as “one of the most consequential elections in our history”.
That may well be right — just as his warning that a Sinn Féin first minister could emerge if DUP voters desert the party may be right. But both these pronouncements have become hackneyed and predictable through over-use when there was little chance of either happening but it suited the DUP to play up the threat from republicans.
Six years ago to the day, the DUP launched its 2016 Assembly election manifesto with warnings which could almost have been copied and pasted for Monday's event.
In that election, Arlene Foster returned triumphant with 38 MLAs to Sinn Féin’s 28, with Martin McGuinness’s party losing votes and losing a seat.
Yet that day Nigel Dodds, then the party’s deputy leader, warned that there would be “chaos” if the DUP was not returned as the biggest party at Stormont, repeatedly driving home the message that unionist voters must ensure that there was not a Sinn Féin first minister.
Privately, some senior DUP figures accept that they are now trailing Sinn Féin — although they think the margin is closer than polls suggest.
Counter-intuitively, it is no bad thing for the party if voters think it is behind, so long as they believe it is the only party capable of stopping Sinn Féin and that it is within the sort of distance where their vote could make a difference.
That message is the most likely to resonate with potential voters, even if it is off-putting to others. We know this because in 2011 the Assembly and council elections were held on the same day.
In the council poll, the DUP took 27.2% of the vote while in the Assembly election it took 30 per cent of the vote; the most obvious difference between the two was that only in the Stormont election was the issue of a Sinn Féin first minister relevant.
The problem with this approach is that it is giving the DUP a bigger portion of a shrinking pie; unionism is declining, and one of the reasons for that is that many people — especially younger voters — are fed up with the idea of voting to keep the other side out.
This is bolstering the Alliance Party in particular and while Sir Jeffrey talked about wanting to broaden unionism’s appeal — as DUP leaders for years have said they want to do — this strategy is likely to have the opposite effect.
Focussing unionism on the threat of Sinn Féin, Sir Jeffrey said that unionists should not be attacking each other. Many unionists will agree with this.
Yet it is a position which just happens to suit the DUP as the biggest party, but which did not suit it in the decades when it was a smaller party denouncing the dominant Ulster Unionists.
The DUP is by no means out of this election race. Everything points to Sinn Féin being favourites to win, yet the party is within the sort of distance of Michelle O’Neill where a good campaign could bring them virtually level. And the sort of primal instincts which communal fears stir in many voters mean that even many people who intensely dislike the DUP may be persuaded to vote for the party to keep out a party which they detest even more. The difficulty is what follows the election. The DUP has set out a red line for Stormont’s restoration — no Irish Sea border — which is unlikely to be met and is beyond its control.
As hard as it may be for the DUP to beat Sinn Féin, if that does happen it may quickly look like the easy part as the party attempts to deal with what comes next.