Could Donald Trump cost Bill English the election?

Bill English needs to figure out how to deal with Trump  - fast.
REUTERS/GETTY IMAGES

Bill English needs to figure out how to deal with Trump - fast.

OPINION: Just days into his leadership, and US President Donald Trump is already casting a long shadow over the next New Zealand election.

When Prime Minister Bill English announces the election date on Wednesday, there will be a sneaking worry that National's fourth term will become collateral damage.

Defending Trump's belligerent diplomacy is not how English wanted to start the political year.

Donald Trump makes a call to Saudi Arabia's King Salman from the Oval Office, where Trump has been lining up world ...
REUTERS

Donald Trump makes a call to Saudi Arabia's King Salman from the Oval Office, where Trump has been lining up world leaders for phone chats.

That much was obvious when he floundered over questions on Tuesday about whether Trump's Muslim ban is racist, or whether New Zealanders are exempt, like the citizens of our five eyes counterparts Britain, Canada, and Australia.

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English had the hunted look of a leader who did not want to be seen to be taking sides. But he better get used to it. Because this is how it's going to be for the coming weeks, and months.

Demonstrators in Britain protest Donald Trump's Muslim ban.
GETTY IMAGES

Demonstrators in Britain protest Donald Trump's Muslim ban.

Trump's presidency doesn't leave much wriggle room. World leaders will be put on the spot again and again over whether they stand with Trump or against him.

Standing against Trump risks alienating a world super power, and could easily get personal – that exemption to the Muslim ban, for instance, could just as easily be whipped away.

Maybe that explains the Government's apparent reluctance to confirm New Zealand is on the list of countries with an exemption, despite it being reported as fact by the world media.

But standing with Trump is hardly risk free either and risks setting off a firestorm at home. National suffered electorally for years over its loyalty to the defunct Anzus defence alliance and opposition to New Zealand's nuclear free legislation.

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Remember the famous throwaway "gone by lunchtime" line about the nuclear ban, or the days when "American bagman" were dirty words?

That is where we differ to Australia, where the defence alliance with the United States is a political plus. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to offer any comment on Trump's Muslim ban and copped almost less flak than English, who has been decidedly vocal by comparison.

But the immigration debate has always struck a deeper chord in Australia. Trump's move may even be popular in some quarters there.

English might also be casting a sideways glance at NZ First leader Winston Peters, who scratches many of the same itches as Trump.

But when even the likes of Starbucks, Google, Facebook and other giants of the corporate world are lining up against Trump it is clear where the weight of world opinion is falling.

The spectacle of Trump's presidency will continue to put English on the spot over where New Zealand stands. And what English won't be able to do is look the other way or find a comfortable middle ground.

Trump – and our own upcoming election – won't give him that luxury.

 - Stuff

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