Since taking office last year, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has become an internationally noteworthy world leader in a number of ways.
At just 37, she is one of the youngest heads of government or state in the world — and certainly the youngest female world leader. She is also pregnant, which will make her one of only a few elected leaders in modern history to give birth while in office.
But one aspect of Ardern’s global reputation leaves her fuming: the comparison with President Trump.
In an interview that aired on NBC's “Today” show this week, Ardern said the idea “infuriated” her and made her “extremely angry” for what it implied about her immigration policy.
The concept that Ardern had something in common with Trump — a 71-year-old grandfather — first came to widespread prominence with a tweet by the Wall Street Journal in September that compared her to Canada’s young leader Justin Trudeau “except she’s more like Trump on immigration.”
The Wall Street Journal article that was being shared by the tweet was written before Ardern was elected and did not actually mention Trump’s name.
However, it said that Ardern’s “rapid ascent owes much to tapping into growing unease about affordability, particularly among young voters, and feeding off a global backlash over immigration.” It also noted that Ardern wanted to cut the annual net migration figure by as many as 30,000 people a year.
In the ensuing election, New Zealand’s incumbent government, led by the center-right National Party, did not receive enough votes for a majority. Instead, Ardern’s center-left Labour Party was able to form a minority government with the aid of NZ First, a populist right wing party.
The leader of that party, which received less than 10 percent of the vote, is Winston Peters — an outspoken figure in New Zealand who has earned a few comparisons to Trump himself for his “combative relationship with the press.”
Peters is now deputy prime minister of New Zealand; he will take over Ardern’s duties while she takes her six week maternity leave later this year.
During her interview with the “Today” show, Ardern said that the focus on her pregnancy while in office was understandable, but added: “I’m looking forward to the day when we won’t have news stories about that because it won’t be nearly as unusual.”
However, the talk of Trump-like qualities got a more heated response. Ardern singled out Trump’s opposition to refugees as one key distinction in their immigration policies, noting that her Labour Party pledged to double the number of refugees brought to New Zealand.
“We are a nation built on immigration — I’m only a third-generation New Zealander,” she said. “The suggestion in any way that New Zealand wasn’t an open, outward facing country — the suggestion that I was leading something counter to that value — makes me extremely angry.”
Trump is a third-generation American on his father’s side and a second-generation American on his mother’s.
Ardern and Trump met last year at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, both of which took place in November. Ardern later told New Zealand’s press that at the latter event, Trump had said in jest that “this lady caused a lot of upset in her country.”
“You know, no one marched when I was elected.” Ardern recalled saying in response, which she said prompted Trump to laugh.
“He did not seem offended,” she said.
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