Ambassador Scott Brown with his wife Gail Huff at Lulu Bar in Wellington. (Photo by Lynn Grieveson - Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

‘Democracy is vibrant’: Election night with Trump’s man in Wellington

Regardless of the White House occupant, America’s relationship with New Zealand won’t change, US ambassador Scott Brown told Spinoff political editor Justin Giovannetti at an embassy function.

About two-thirds of the New Zealanders he’s met are supportive of president Donald Trump and his policies, said Scott Brown, the outgoing US ambassador, last night, citing what he called an informal poll of his time in the country.

Sitting down with the Spinoff during an election party in Wellington hosted by the American embassy, Brown said New Zealand’s relationship with the US won’t change based on the outcome of the election.

At the function on Courtenay Place, Brown took to a large white map of the US and led the crowd through the workings of the electoral college and his view on how things were going. The Republican appointee and former Massachusetts senator was visibly pleased by levels of support for Trump that outperformed most forecasts.

Scott Brown

US ambassador Scott Brown at a 2020 election party in Wellington. Photo: Justin Giovannetti

In a quiet back room, with Fox News on the TV, Brown said that turnout in the election was encouraging.

“Democracy is vibrant,” he said. But maybe not the polls. “Pollsters had the president getting crushed and Joe Biden up 10%. You were just going to have this blue wave, but as I predicted it would be close and down to a few states.”

His prediction, made early in the night, looked close to prophecy as the results poured in. But whatever the result, New Zealand had little cause for worry, he said.

The country is well served in Washington, with New Zealand-born White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell on the transition teams for both candidates, said Brown. It was unlikely Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden would want to do much to change the relationship with New Zealand, he added.

Brown’s said that prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s second term government would need to get ready to work with an American embassy brimming with plans. “I think they’ll have a challenge to keep up, because we’ve been working pretty hard doing deals,” he said.

The US is keen and ready to work on a free trade agreement immediately. Negotiations were interrupted by the coronavirus but should restart as soon as New Zealand is ready, he said.

New agreements over space flight and a strategic oil reserve agreement are also ready. “Jump on the opportunity, it’s there,” was Brown’s advice to Ardern’s incoming trade minister, Damien O’Connor.

Brown himself is stepping down at the end of they year. During his nearly four years in New Zealand, Trump’s man in Wellington said he didn’t face any challenges from the perceived unpopularity of the president who appointed him. The opposite in fact.

“It’s an informal poll, but 30% go, quietly, ‘I like your guy, but don’t say anything.’ Another 30% say, ‘I love your guy, I love what he’s doing, I just don’t like how he’s doing it. Will you tell him to stop tweeting?’ That’s really it,” he said, citing support for Trump’s policies on trade, china and NATO. “I look at that as 66% to 33% support.”

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