‘Girlfriend, you are so on’: the curious Jacinda Ardern fixation in the US Democratic race

The candidates to tackle Donald Trump are very keen on the New Zealand prime minister.

It could be because Vogue called her “the anti-Trump”. It could be the desperate shortage of tolerable left-leaning leaders in the Anglosphere. Or it could be because everyone knows it’s illegal to be mean about people from New Zealand. Whatever it is, our humble South Pacific nation has become a recurring reference point in the mud pit of American politics. And not just because of the cavalcades of people threatening to move here in protest, but also the repeated name-checks for Jacinda Ardern in the contest to win the Democratic Party nomination to take on actual president Donald Trump.

The most recent example is Bernie Sanders. Having previously praised gun control reforms, he linked on a website called Facebook to a story acclaiming Ardern for the Carbon Zero Bill, issuing his congratulations, and writing, hoarsely: “When I am president, we will be a leader in this fight.”

Another leading candidate, Pete Buttigieg, who is more often described as “Mayor Pete” because spelling is difficult, cited Ardern as an inspiration as far as youth was concerned. Buttigieg, who is 37 and could be the grandchild of most candidates in the race, said: “I do think it matters we have a new generation of leaders stepping up around the world,” offering by way of example Ardern.

“I actually think it’s good the prime minister of New Zealand has gotten a lot of attention in Democratic debates,” he said. “She’s masterful, she’s younger than I would be when I take office.”

That’s factually wrong (Ardern is 39), which is very on-brand for contemporary American politics.

Certainly and by some distance, however, the greatest invocation of the New Zealand PM came from an outside runner for the presidency – the karmic author and spiritual advisor to Oprah, Marianne Williamson, who shouted out Jacinda Ardern during the primary debate in Miami in June.

She had gotten wind of the New Zealand prime minister’s ambition for children.

When asked for her first action as president, she said: “My first call is to the prime minister of New Zealand, who said that her goal is to make New Zealand the best place in the world for a child in the world to grow up.”

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What might she say?

“I will tell her, ‘Girlfriend, you are so on, because the United States of America is going to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up’.”

We’re only a few candidates away from the royal flush. Joe Biden, whose CV includes being vice president and playing rugby, has a clear affection for New Zealand, so the shout-out can only be days away in the event he can assemble the words in the right order. Probably he’s waiting for Obama to tweet about us. It’s only been 600-odd days.

Which leaves (please let’s just agree to ignore Michael Bloomberg for now) Elizabeth Warren. According to current projections by The Spinoff’s binders full of psephologists, she’s going to win the Democratic nomination. She’s praised Ardern, along with everyone else, for her response to the March 15 tragedy. But if you’re looking for omens, there’s also this: she unseated Scott Brown, Trump pal and current US ambassador to New Zealand, as a senator in 2017. Everything is falling into place.


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