Donald Trump in front of a New Zealand flag

SocietySeptember 4, 2017

‘Trump and New Zealand are a co-brand’

Donald Trump in front of a New Zealand flag

A New York Times feature on the new breed of Washington lobbyists lays bare the weird connection between the New Zealand embassy under Tim Groser and Robert Stryk, a Trump-connected political player. Catherine McGregor explains.

The night of 20 January was a massive one on Washington DC’s party circuit, as Republican politicians, lobbyists and assorted hangers-on thronged the city’s ballrooms and banquet halls to celebrate the inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States. Among the more glittering events was, somewhat surprisingly, the party at the New Zealand Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Tim Groser at a cost to the NZ taxpayer of more than $80,000. A gossipy blog post from the Washingtonian magazine reported that Groser was “elated” at the guest list, which included such luminaries as Steve Bannon, the now banished architect of Trumpism, and Jon Voight, actor, right wing nutjob and Angelina Jolie’s dad.

But it wasn’t just the calibre of attendees that had Groser so cheerful. According to the Washingtonian report, Groser bragged he had scored Donald Trump’s cellphone number – “he knew a guy who knew a guy”, apparently. (In response to an enquiry at the time, MFAT told The Spinoff that Groser “made a range of off the cuff comments over the evening. We have no record of them.”).

Tim Groser and Robert Stryk

That “guy” was Robert Stryk, one of the subjects of a story in the latest New York Times Magazine about the new breed of Washington lobbyists: former D-list political players who, post election, have been able to parlay their personal connections with Trump and his cronies into positions of real influence and power.

But how exactly did Stryk hook up with Groser? According to the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, it was all the result of a romcom-worthy meet-cute, though not with Groser himself. Stryk was drinking at the patio of a Washington hotel bar two days after the election “when a chocolate Lab padded over to his table to sniff his crotch.”

“Stryk and the dog’s owner got to talking about wine and cigars and finally, like most of the country, about Trump. It turned out that she worked for New Zealand’s Embassy in Washington. New Zealand’s prime minister still hadn’t connected with the new president-elect, she told Stryk — a diplomatic and political embarrassment. Stryk cocked an eye across the table. ‘What if I said I could get you the number of someone to call the president?’ he asked her.”

(A little internet sleuthing suggests the wine and cigar-loving dog owner in question is likely to be Caroline Beresford, Tim Groser’s number 2.)

The next day Stryk was on his way to the embassy, where he delivered the Trump digits. “At the embassy, Groser invited him in, uncorked a bottle of pinot noir and called the prime minister to pass along the number. A week later, President-elect Trump was finally able to accept a congratulatory phone call.”

The New York Times Magazine

His bonafides thus established, Stryk was in. He now had an opportunity to translate his chance chocolate Labrador-spawned encounter into something way more substantial:

“Offering to work free, [Stryk] had a proposal. New Zealand would throw the biggest party of Trump’s inauguration. Stryk would put the new administration’s leading lights in the room; Groser would do the rest. ‘It was about building brand recognition for New Zealand,’ Stryk explained. ‘If we can get them there, then forever, bad or good, Trump and New Zealand are a co-brand.’”

The rest is Washington DC society history. “We had a party that rocked, frankly,” Stryk tells the New York Times. Delighted with his new associate’s political pulling power, Groser has now hired Stryk full time, presumably in the hopes of further strengthening the links between New Zealand and the White House. After all, as an MFAT spokesperson told The Spinoff, “The ambassador’s role is to represent New Zealand’s interests in the US and advance them at every opportunity. He works to do that with whatever government the people of the United States elect.”

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