Analysis: Why President Donald Trump 2.0 could be a 'disaster' for New Zealand

ANALYSIS: It was a long night standing along Flordia's West Palm Beach in November 2021, waiting around in the damp humidity near one of the world's most recognizable mansions. Reporters, producers, and camera operators from all parts of the world had arrived en masse. For an event of such size though, many seemed unenthused.  

We were there for an announcement that felt like the worst kept secret in politics - Donald J. Trump was set to reveal he was running for reelection only a year and a half after he had vacated the White House. The lack of enthusiasm outside Mar-a-Lago stemmed from a lack of excitement about Trump entering a race two years out from polling day. 

That evening, Trump was fast becoming old news. Governor Ron DeSantis had swept to an overwhelming gubernatorial victory just days before the midterm elections. Commentators were calling DeSantis the DeFacto leader of the Republican Party and the candidate likely to become the party's next Presidential nominee. It had the makings of a brilliant narrative too. A young conservative veteran viewed as a family man, who offered new hope for a party left defeated after the last election. 

Fast forward 13 months and that scenario has flipped on its head. Ron DeSantis is struggling to hold second place in the polls of the party's candidates, and Donald Trump has an overwhelming lead that has given him so much confidence he has not bothered debating anyone else. A New York Times poll last month showed Trump was beating Biden in five of the six swing states considered most important ahead of the election. There is enough evidence to seriously consider that a Trump victory could become a reality if he can survive four criminal trials and a bruising campaign season. Such a scenario would have ramifications globally, and a country like New Zealand is likely to feel the effects of a second Trump administration.  

International Affairs commentator Josie Pagani suggests for an older generation of New Zealanders, an interest in United States politics stems from the view that many once had of America. She said it wasn't seen as just a place, but an "idea," even a "citadel of liberal democracy."

However, when it comes to some politically active young people today, Pagani said some view the United States as a country that represents "everything that is wrong with the Western world." 

New Zealand government officials are likely to be following next year's election with curiosity but will also be considering the consequences of its outcome for Aotearoa. Our relationship with America covers a wide range of initiatives like Partners in the Blue Pacific, and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. 

Pagani is concerned if Donald Trump is reelected, the repercussions for New Zealand would be significant. "Trump after all these indictments will populate his administration with true believers. And for New Zealand, that's just a disaster." 

International Affairs commentator Josie Pagani.
International Affairs commentator Josie Pagani. Photo credit: RNZ

In August, Trump floated the idea of a automatic 10 percent tariff on goods imported to the US from all countries. New Zealand exported $8b worth of goods to the United States in 2022. "That would just damage our economy, (or) expose our economy to damage anyway," Pagani says. 

Former New Zealand Ambassador to the United States and Trade Minister, Tim Groser, believes Trump's tariffs could backfire on him if they were implemented, because they would hurt Americans. "You're hitting your own people. It's not the foreigners that pay it. It's the people that buy the goods that pay the tax". 

When it comes to climate change, Donald Trump has consistently played down its threat and has offered wildly inaccurate and often inflammatory predictions of its potential consequences. "The oceans may rise, over the next 300 years, 1/100th of an inch," Trump told one audience. "Giving you slightly more seafront property". 

Dr Maria Armoudian lectures International Relations and Politics at the University of Auckland, and views this as the most concerning issue if Trump were to be reelected. 

"Trump took us (America) out of the Paris Agreement. And I mean, Trump is a climate denier. We saw the storms here last year in New Zealand. This is just beginning in terms of the consequences of how much we're warming our planet. I think that's going to be the biggest one." 

A Trump victory is likely to raise questions on which direction US foreign policy will take in the coming years and what implications that may have for New Zealand. Right now, the US is involved in wars in both Ukraine and Gaza, contributing tens of billions of dollars to Ukrainian and Israeli efforts. Looming large closer to our region, is heightened tensions in the South China Sea. It's there China says it has a territorial claim over Taiwan. The US has said its forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. New Zealand exports to China total $21.45 billion, and our government would be in a difficult position if Chinese and American tensions escalated. That scenario could happen under a Democrat or Republican-held White House. 

"You've got a small country like New Zealand, which its very existence depends on us not choosing a side because we, we're a small country that needs to have a lot of fingers and a lot of pots so that we're not vulnerable," Josie Pagani says. 

Former United States President Donald Trump.
Former United States President Donald Trump. Photo credit: Reuters

But while there is concern over Trump returning to office, it is possible he will be surrounded by several officials who do not match his brazen attitudes to some of these issues. Tim Groser served as Ambassador when Trump was first elected to office and dealt with many of the country's top officials. Groser expects if Donald Trump is chosen by the American public, he may face some pushback from within. 

"Whether I was dealing with heavy duty officials in very responsible positions or Generals in the Pentagon or intelligence chiefs, I found them all just outstanding. And their commitment to the underlying values and system is unchanged through Democratic and Republican administrations. So, there's a lot of resistance." 

Groser also offers an insight into the thinking of some officials in Washington during Trump's first administration. He would regularly meet with Republican leaders and was surprised by how open they were willing to speak freely about the President behind closed doors. 

"You know, every single Republican. Once I poured enough Central Otago Pinot Noir down their throat, would come out with an anti-Trump statement. But they were trapped by him. To say it publicly was to end your career immediately." 

If Trump becomes the Republican nominee at the party's Milwaukee convention next year, expect much of the same. The party faithful are likely to rally behind Trump as they did when he won, and as many continued to do even after the January 6 Capitol Riots. Unlike other candidates Donald Trump has an extraordinary legal mountain to climb, with his first criminal trial set down for March. But if Donald J. Trump can rise once more to the highest office in the United States, the ramifications globally are almost certain to be extraordinary too.