Much has been written about the meaning of Donald Trump’s election to the White House. His inflated rhetoric and confusing, and often contradictory, campaign promises leave the public and officials bemused. One thing is certain – United States bilateral relations will change, and probably not for the better. Pressure on bilateral relations comes from both Trump’s opposition to free trade and anti-Trump sentiment amongst the Australian and New Zealand public.
Both Australia and New Zealand have pursued a free trade agenda for at least the past 25 years. With the collapse of US support for the New Zealand-inspired Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the era of antipodean inspired multi-lateral free trade initiatives, which began with the Hawke government’s promotion of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the late 1980’s, has come to an end. To be sure, the next round of Asia Pacific trade initiatives will not include Washington, and neither Australia nor New Zealand are likely to have much of a voice in negotiations.
On the Australian domestic front, we have yet to see concrete polling data. However, one can expect domestic support for the US to plummet to levels not unlike those recorded during the Iraq War. Revulsion at Trump’s campaign rhetoric combined with nascent anti-Americanism have the potential to coalesce, narrowing the range of political maneuver available to the Coalition government. Singing the praises of close partnership with American allies will not have quite the same ring to it when Australians feel increasing ambivalence towards the alliance.
For New Zealand, the election of Trump comes at a peculiar moment in bilateral relations. November 2016 was to have been a hopeful month, with the visit of the USS Sampson – the first American naval visit to New Zealand since the announcement of Kiwi anti-nuclear policy in the late 1980s – marking significant progress in US/NZ relations. The visit was frustrated, however, by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that rocked the South Island on November 14, and which required the Sampson to divert course and assist in relief efforts. Now, as with Australia, one can expect a push back amongst the Kiwi public against the looming Trump administration.
The real test for both bilateral relationships will depend on whether domestic opinion can coalesce once again in favor of the United States. Will Aussies and Kiwis grow accustomed to the Trump presidency – or they will be so repulsed that relations with the United States are irrevocably altered?