Simon Bridges is defending National's teenage candidate after he removed an image on his Facebook page showing a friend pulling a hand gesture associated with white supremacists.
"My understanding is that's not what it is," Bridges, National leader, told reporters in Parliament on Tuesday. "I don't think there's a lot in it."
William Wood, National's 17-year-old Palmerston North candidate, removed the image of him and five male friends outside Parliament from his personal Facebook page.
The group of boys had been attending a mock United Nations summit at Parliament in Wellington representing different countries.
The imaged showed a friend of Wood, wearing a hat with US President Donald Trump's election slogan "Make America Great Again" and pulling his thumb and index finger together to form the "Okay" gesture.
That "Okay" gesture, however, is today associated with white supremacist groups. The symbol can be made to look like the letters "w" and "p" to stand for "white power".
The gesture was pulled by the accused Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant when he appeared at the Christchurch District Court in March.
Bridges suggested the gesture was harmless because Wood's friend was impersonating the US President who often pulls it while he's presenting speeches.
"The person wearing the hat was in fact representing America while the President of America is of course Donald Trump - someone who's done these symbols in the past," Bridges said.
"I also understand our Prime Minister has as well," Bridges added, referring to an image of Jacinda Ardern pulling the gesture in a photo with actor William Shatner in October 2018.
Ardern captioned the image at the time with: "I have no idea why I am making this particular gesture to William Shatner."
Bridges was asked why Wood removed the image from Facebook if it was harmless.
"Well, I suppose because he knew he'd get questions like this to the leader of his party in a stand-up just before Parliament," he told reporters.
"I think he's being a good candidate, trying to be responsible, and step up to the mark."
A spokesperson for Wood told Newshub the 17-year-old has started a public Facebook profile following his selection as National's candidate for Palmerston North.
"As such, has made a lot of his online content private to protect the privacy of family and close friends."
The spokesperson said the gesture Wood's friend made was "absolutely not a white supremacist hand gesture".
He was announced as National's Palmerston North candidate last week, beating three female candidates - one a sitting National MP, Jo Hayes.
Bridges said the National Party will "make sure he's got good support".
"It's obviously very early days for him... The party will wrap around... We want him to do a good job in that seat."
If elected in 2020, 17-year-old Wood - who just graduated from Palmerston North Boys High School - would become New Zealand's youngest lawmaker ever.
Last week, Labour MPs thanked the teenage candidate for appearing to stand up for them in the comment section of a National Party attack ad on Facebook.