Tony Abbott has praised Malcolm Turnbull as an “orthodox centre-right prime minister” during a lengthy interview on Sky News where he deflected attempts to get him to criticise his successor.

Mr Abbott also warned of the Australian lessons from a US election where Middle America showed it was tired of being taken for granted, in a “revenge of the deplorables” over jobs, climate change, Islamist terror and border protection.

Warning of the risk to the nation if the Coalition did not hold the centre-right of the political spectrum, Mr Abbott refused to be drawn on a suggestion from TV host Andrew Bolt that Mr Turnbull was not “authentic” as a leader.

Instead, Mr Abbott backed Mr Turnbull’s remark on ABC TV last week about the “elite media” focusing on secondary issues.

“The elite media gave him the job,” Mr Bolt said.

Mr Abbott did not disagree with that assessment but he supported the remarks last week.

“I think this is a sign that Malcolm is growing into the role of Prime Minister,” Mr Abbott said.

“He appreciates that it’s one thing to appeal to a certain constituency when you are the would-be, but when you are the man your constituency is first and foremost the party room and, secondly, the people who will are going to vote for the Coalition or who you want to vote for the Coalition at the next election.”

Mr Abbott also described Mr Turnbull as a “lifelong Liberal” who had sought preselection for Liberal seats when young and had later served as the party’s chief fundraiser.

“This is a guy who well and truly came home when he joined the Liberal Party as its federal treasurer, and is now governing as an entirely orthodox centre-right prime minister,” he said.

Mr Abbott used the interview last night to express regret that he had not done more long-form interviews when prime minister, while also repeating an admission that he should have considered nuclear submarines for the naval fleet.

When Mr Bolt argued that the Coalition should not want to be “less worse” than Labor, Mr Abbott made a wider argument about the need to ward off challenges from the Right of the political spectrum.

Mr Bolt said: “You don’t want to be less worse than Shorten.”

Mr Abbott replied: “Well, it helps. Sometimes politics is the lesser evil. There are many circumstances in which you have to choose the least-bad option.”

“We need a strong mainstream centre-right party, centre right government, because if there’s not a strong voice on the centre-right, you’ll see voices emerge that are less sensible and more Right, as it were, and that can lead us to all sorts of difficulty.”

Mr Abbott said the US election outcome showed voter concerns about job losses, porous borders, “politicians who could not call Islamist terrorism by its name” and economic damage from climate change.

“And of course we have similar issues in at lease some respects here in Australia, and one of the things I’m very pleased about is we do now have a Prime Minister who is talking about the impact of Labor’s renewable energy target on power prices,” he said.

Mr Abbott attributed Donald Trump’s victory to voters who were sick of being called racist, sexist, homophobic, islamaphobic, because they didn’t comply with the canons of political correctness.

“All of those people saw Donald Trump as, in some way, their champion,” he said.

“One of the encouraging things about his election was that we should finally be able to look at global warming in better perspective.”

While it was a significant issue, the moral panic about it has been completely over the top, he said.

“All I know is that we haven’t had any floods, any droughts, any storms in recent times to exceed those that we know we have had,” Mr Abbott said.

“This idea that every weather event is somehow evidence of climate change I find deeply implausible.”

Mr Abbott also labelled the Human Rights Commission a “crook organisation” and the behaviour of its president Gillian Triggs as unedifying in his argument that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act needed to change.