Is Winston Peters Our Donald Trump? A Newsworthy Investigation

Donston Trumters.
Donston Trumters.

Last week, the Dowager Countess of New Zealand politics, Chris Finlayson, accused Winston Peters of being the ‘Donald Trump of New Zealand politics'. Sick burn.

Peters denied the allegation.

"[Finlayson needs to] get a grip and stop reverting to hissy fits every time some truth is told about his organisational spending,” he said, with trademark calm.

But within days of his denial, Peters had added another plank to Finlayson’s case. He started a feud with New Zealand’s most popular right-wing media commentator. Who else started a feud with their nation’s most popular right-wing media commentator recently? That’s right: Donald Trump.

Maybe these two are more similar than either would like to admit. Let’s follow this trail of sweets to the witch’s door.

Mike Hosking is far from the first media personality Peters has feuded with.

Here he is, trolling reporters before the 2008 General Election.

Here he is denying calling a journalist a ‘dick’.

No-one feuds with the media like Peters.

No-one except Trump.

It’s easier to compile a list of journalists Trump hasn’t called a loser than of ones he has. The front-runner for the Republican nomination has called Arianna Huffington a “loser”. Jon Stewart a loser. Chuck Todd. Ana Navarro. Charles Krauthammer. Loser. Loser. Loser. All losers! Everyone’s a loser!.

Phoning Winston Peters is a rite of passage for New Zealand journalists.

I had to do it in 2013, after the buffoonish New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser got his pocket knife confiscated at Christchurch Airport and responded by writing a column saying the “rights and freedoms of other New Zealanders and Westerners are denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan”. Peters rattled off a series of putdowns, and hung up on me. I rang him back and said “I think we got cut off”. He said “No we didn’t, I hung up on you”.

Game, set, match. Peters.

Whereas Peters does a lot of his insulting in the dignified anteroom of phone interviews with newspaper reporters, Trump insults in broad daylight. He insults on Twitter; in live TV interviews. No-one is safe. Everyone is a potential hater and loser. You can be insulted by Trump as well, if you just click here.

Peters and Trump are both Kings of the Coif. But their styling approaches are subtly different.

Trump's hair looks like a sloth fell asleep on his forehead. It hangs languid and unphased, barely bothering to defy gravity. It is somehow mesmerising, a fringe and not-a-fringe, both up and down.

If Trump's hair is a sloth, Peters’ is a badger. Streaks of black still punctuate the 70-year-old’s perfectly-cut coiffure. It's hair that says 'I will take you on a date at a nice restaurant and also get you off a murder charge'.

Unlike Trump though, Peters doesn't possess the most incredible hair in his nation’s political sphere. That title goes to Peter Dunne, whose luscious snow-white mane somehow defies the laws of physics without the contamination of any man-made adhesive.

Hair held up by tiny angels.

Winston Peters’ smile could charm a corpse. He could be telling you he killed your rabbit. One flash of those teeth and you'd invite him inside for a cup of tea.

I have destroyed your rabbit.

Trump's smile is more goofy, adolescent. It says 'Who me? Did I say that terrible thing about Mexicans? Lol. Let's get a drink'. Among those on the Left, it helps him to remain forgivable despite being genuinely unhinged, while on the Right it helps him remain forgivable despite being something worse: a moderate. If a gormless sadsack like Jeb Bush said the things Trump says, he'd be sent to political jail without passing Go. Trump grins it all away.

Lately, high-ranking National Party figures have taken to responding to difficult questions with waves of babble so complicated and slightly off-topic that journalists just give up. Where’d they get that tactic from? Spoiler alert: it’s classic Peters.

The ancient mariner of New Zealand politics was the first to master the art of confusion and misdirection. Here, Audrey Young details a beautiful exchange where journalists try and fail to get Peters to answer a series of direct questions. By the end, Young resorts to transcribing his answers as a series of exclamation marks. Now that’s a politician.

Trump employs a similar tactic. He speaks words; they sound interesting; and at the end of the interview you realise he didn’t actually say anything. The New York Times called him the first ‘post-policy candidate’. Who needs policy? Policy is for losers.

In mid-1990s, Peters claimed New Zealand was being invaded by ‘Asians’, in something he dubbed the ‘Asian Invasion’.

In 2015, Trump wants to build a wall across the US border to keep out Mexicans, who he says are criminals and rapists.

Both men are gregarious insult merchants who survive on the media heroin of raw charisma.

But comparing them is an insult. Trump has been around for a few weeks. He’s made a few headlines. Peters entered Parliament in 1978 and has only had one three year holiday. He has something that Trump can’t prove he has: stickability. He is the chewing gum on the sole of New Zealand politics. The Treebeard of the Beehive. The wizened wizard of the Beltway.

If Trump wants to be President for 37 years, he needs to call Winston.