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Chris Trotter argues the key message from National Party leader Simon Bridges' weekend party conference speech was similar to that of the United States’ most outspoken National Conservative politician

Chris Trotter argues the key message from National Party leader Simon Bridges' weekend party conference speech was similar to that of the United States’ most outspoken National Conservative politician
Simon Bridges by Jacky Carpenter.

By Chris Trotter*

Munich, in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, was an uncomfortable place for conservatives. The Wittelsbach dynasty, along with the Hohenzollerns had fled before the red gale raging from the east. Bavaria lost its monarch, and, for a brief period, its head.

Ultimately, Kurt Eisner’s Bavarian Socialist Republic, and the even more revolutionary Bavarian Soviet Republic, proved no match for the “freikorps” of demobbed right-wing soldiery that brought them down. Nevertheless, that bitter revolutionary winter of 1918-19 engendered among the upper classes an enduring psychosis of fear and dread. How, and by whom, they demanded, could the restive socialist masses be tamed?

The answer came from one of those demobbed right-wing soldiers. A former corporal turned military informant, Adolf Hitler, argued that the seemingly irresistible ideology of socialism could only be contained by attaching it to the even more powerful ideology of nationalism. It was to forefront the importance of this new hybrid ideology that he re-named the German Workers Party, a tiny group he had been sent to spy on, only to join and take over, the National Socialist German Workers Party. This political mouthful was shortened by Hitler’s contemporaries to the much more manageable “Nazi Party”.

Some familiarity with the origins and political purpose of “National Socialism” should make  “National Conservatism” a lot easier to understand. Grasping the term’s meaning is important. The first “National Conservative” conference, organised by the US-based Edmund Burke Foundation, was held earlier this month in Washington DC. The gathering featured a number of figures prominent on the American Right – including New Zealand’s billionaire “citizen”, Peter Thiel.

If the motivation for placing “National” in front of “Conservative” is in any way akin to the motives for putting the same word in front of “Socialism”, it would suggest that the forces of conservatism in the United States, like the forces of socialism in Germany 100 years ago, are similarly out of control and engendering toxic levels of fear and dread in the American upper classes.

These fears are readily understood. The rise of Donald Trump has fundamentally deranged the Republican Party. Like the promoters of Brexit in the United Kingdom, Trump long ago grasped the crucial truth that actual conservatives, as opposed to the professional right-wing politicians and campaign operatives accustomed to managing them, constitute a volatile and potentially highly disruptive political force.

Trump understands that many of the hopes and aspirations of the conservative masses are every bit as unsettling as those traditionally associated with the Left. For the best part of fifty years, the Republican Party has made an art form out of exacerbating and exploiting the patriotic and religious feelings of ordinary blue-collar Americans. Over the same period, however, Republican grandees have worked tirelessly to steer their aggrieved working-class supporters away from the economic policies that have done so much to undermine their security. Keeping the issues of off-shoring, free trade, deindustrialisation and globalisation off the table used to be a priority for all serious Republican candidates – until Trump.

The enormous power inherent in these forbidden topics was made evident to Trump in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, by right-wing iconoclast (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich, whose supporters harnessed them in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the campaign of Mitt Romney. It cannot have escaped Trump’s attention how much these anti-Romney attack ads felt and sounded like the politics of the old New Deal Democratic Party.

Conservatives, it seemed, could be class warriors, too. Protectionism and the government intervention to support “American Made” products: policies ruled out of contention by both the Republican and Democratic elites: could win an openly populist candidate votes – lots of votes.

National Conservatism represents an attempt to accommodate Trump’s expanded repertoire of acceptable economic issues within a political platform that continues to defend the interests of the Republican Party’s principal funders. Protecting American industries from “unfair” foreign competition, and using the resources of the American state to keep the USA at the cutting-edge of technological change, are key components of the National Conservatives’ policy push.

Less concrete, but potentially much more problematic, is the National Conservatives’ call for “social cohesion”. Paradoxically, this call for an enhanced degree of national unity is a direct consequence of Trump’s deliberate fostering of national division.

The President knows that in politics nothing matters more than picking a side and sticking to it. Trump’s key demographic is white Americans without college degrees. They elected him and he has never stopped thanking them for it. He knows that these folk mostly tend to define themselves by what they are not. It’s why the President is so ready to define the USA negatively. America is not Black. America is not Hispanic. America is not Muslim. America is not Liberal. America is not convinced that Climate Change is real.

If National Conservatism opts to define social cohesion is these exclusionary terms, then it will find itself confronting some pretty major political and constitutional hurdles. With so many Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and Liberals in the American electorate, any attempt to redefine American identity so narrowly and negatively could only be accomplished by adopting the same authoritarian and deeply racist policies as those deployed by America’s World War I president, Woodrow Wilson, (whose second term coincided with Hitler’s invention of National Socialism.)

If, however, National Conservatism seizes upon the traditional metaphor of the American Melting Pot, and devotes itself to promoting the unifying power of the American Dream, then National Conservatism has a real chance to smooth-off the sharper edges of Trumpism, reset the Republican Party’s political agenda, and keep the Democratic Party off-balance.

The United States’ most outspoken National Conservative politician, Missouri Senator, Josh Hawley, spelled out the new movement’s message in the Washington conference’s keynote address:

“The great divide of our time is not between Trump supporters and Trump opponents, or between suburban voters and rural ones, or between Red America and Blue America. No, the great divide of our time is between the political agenda of the leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society. And to answer the discontent of our time, we must end that divide. We must forge a new consensus.”

Now, that’s not quite the same as the message delivered by Simon Bridges’, leader of New Zealand’s free-floating and unattached to any “-ism” National Party, who on Saturday told the voters of New Zealand that: “The New Zealand National Party’s bottom line – is you.”

But it’s close.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. His work may be found at He writes a fortnightly column for

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In a lesser and more limited scenario President to be Harding, following Wilson, campaigned under the slogan “Return to Normalcy.” Non Americans I believe would not be able to accept just how normal, normal Americans think Trump is. And as well millions on millions, wouldn’t mind being just like him. If the average American is happy in his or her, average back yard, then there is not much going wrong in the world, from that perspective, at least.

It's a nice speech from Simon but unfortunately it simply does not describe the legacy that the previous National four-headed coalition government left for many NZers. It describes some other universe.


I'm a big fan of Simon Bridges. He seems to be the biggest single reason to vote for Jacinda. Long may his reign continue.

You're not wrong there, but thing is the current coalition has made some seriously silly spending mistakes, such as fees free first year tertiary. It should have been a debt write off on completion of the qualification. If they rework some of their ill-conceived policies and actually manage to reverse our poverty statistics and go all out to build more state housing during this term, they might be worthy of another vote. If they don't and nothing changes with National - NZ First will benefit.

Agreed. The biggest single issue they need to wrap their heads around is that there isn't a housing shortage ~ there is an affordable homes shortage.

Probably like you I would like to see Kiwi build restructured so that it's aim is to provide a high volume of quality social housing. I was speaking with a surveyor today who is involved in the passive hause concept in NZ.

As he quite rightly said, make this a standard for social housing and all building will follow ~ and this would be a massive step forward as the quality of NZ construction is an absolute shocker.

Re tuition fees I agree with you again it would make sense to ensure students completed the course before being given a rebate of fees.

All that said though I've been impressed with JA. She's first term and she's learning. I hope she manages to get some stuff moving in the next 18 months so voters have the confidence to give her a second term.

The fees free policy was just bizarre it any angle you look at it. Even as a simple vote-buying policy it was ineffective since the recipients of the policy are mostly those who are too young to vote anyway. At the least it should have been the 3rd year free and then working backwards to the 2nd and 1st year as money permitted.

My preference though would have been for the government to match minimum student loan repayments dollar for dollar up to the average wage and reduce the contribution rate from 12% to 6% up to the average wage. Thus everyone with a student loan would get an effective tax cut. Probably a bit more expensive, but would have won them interest and votes for a much larger part of the electorate than 1st year tertiary students.

Tertiary education is already receiving something like a subsidy of 85% from the government. I think it's right that students should pay towards the costs of their own private benefit, since the rewards of that education (higher salary) primarily goes towards them as well.

Kate's suggestion rewards and incentives excellence, and it's consistent with what the Germans currently do (although in Germany you need something like an A grade average to receive the financial reward). You could also use a debt write down scheme to steer people into desired degrees.

I'd say the student loan scheme was ill-conceived to begin with. We need to break the cycle of debt by eliminating that first.

Fine as long as we bring in a national scholarship programme as a means to provide free tertiary for a large contingent of the youth population. It's how my uni education was funded in the US in the 70s - and to stay on the scholarship programme there were minimum GPAs needed.

How very regressive of you to be suggesting rewarding only those who produce results. We'll make a right winger of you yet. :)

She's on the slippery slope to full blown neoliberal.

:-). A TSY analyst during the Rogernomics era once said to me that he thought something I wrote sounded like a classic libertarian - and I took that as a compliment. Noam Chomsky, a favourite author/speaker, has described himself as both an anarcho-syndicalist and a libertarian socialist - and given I tend to agree with him on most everything, perhaps that's where I sit;

We already had the bonded merit scholarship. We don't want your financialised education system here thanks.

Who said anything about bonding - not me.

The sooner they switch to Judith - the better. Can you imagine her saying "A rising tide lifts all boats"? This sort of fake platitude of a by-gone era won't be swallowed by those struggling middle classes - the swing voters - that he's trying to capture. A more tired political movement would be hard to find. It's not Conservative Nationalism but more-of-the-same neoliberal clap trap. Neoliberal clap trap isn't what won Trump the election.

Are you banking on few people recalling the whole Oravida thing or how when asked about the destruction of wetlands caused by swamp kauri extraction replied "I don't care, they are swamps and I don't like swamps'.
She would make the National party even more of a laughing stock if they are prepared to go with her as their leader (which I believe her popularity will count her out of), but then again, maybe that would not be such a bad thing.

Not forgetting that at all - nor her lead part in Dirty Politics. But putting aside her objectionable scheming and feathering of her own nest - I think she'd be a much more effective opposition leader presently. She's more experienced at law making and Ministerial/executive responsibility and more intelligent, and she would do a serious refresh of the embarrassing National Party front bench and further (i.e., list) ranks.

I could not think of anyone worse or less deserving of the job, to be frank, seeing her as leadership material says as much about those that would accept her as anything else. I am sorry to say that, you make a great contributions here, but backing someone like this is beyond the pale in my book. I don't care how experienced she is, the whiff of corruption still hangs over her, that is not someone to lead.

Yes, it will be like Trumping of NZ politics...

Given our unicameral Parliamentary system - there is nothing worse than a weak opposition in NZ politics. I really get what you mean by 'beyond the pale' - I'd have said that too on reading Dirty Politics. But don't forget, her leader at the time was John Key, the most ruthlessly elitist and undemocratic PM I think NZ has ever had.

Labour was a weak opposition throughout JK's nine year reign. A more awful abuse of executive power would be hard to find. Only the Greens and NZ First provided good opposition during that period.

I'm not backing Judith - I'm backing a better opposition. Sure she was corrupt given the Oravida connection; the swamp kauri connection; and the Dirty Politics connection, but all those matters have happily been knee-capped by Hager's book/exposure, Ann-Marie Brady's academic work on CCP influence in our domestic politics, and the Supreme Court ruling on swamp kauri.

The National Party needs to accept the nine year elitist ruse they played under Key is over. I think Judith understands that better than Simon and Paula combined.

Kate: just checked Simon Bridges wikipedia bio - seems to be pretty bright to me (PhD from Oxford) and with useful experience as both a lawyer and a crown prosecutor. Certainly more impressive than Jacinda's all politics background. Judith Collins has a longer and more successful legal career but doesn't appear to be as academically qualified.
Does Simon Bridges simply fail the public relations test? Ought that to matter? Is he handicapped by being both a man and a Maori?

I really don't think there is a great deal of correlation between academic qualification, IQ and EQ. That's not to say I think getting a tertiary education is a waste of time - these days one needs a recognised qualification; a specialisation skill and/or a profession. I'm just saying, don't look to folks highest degree qualification to determine intelligence.

Agreed. I've just been reading about Claude Shannon - all his exaulted contemporaries called him a genius but as his sister pointed out his IQ of 125 was less than hers. What are the characteristics of Judith Collins that impress you of her intelligence? She just seems to have a big smile.

My opinion is based on her performance in Parliament - I hate to admit it but when I have the chance I watch PTV. She was a very competent Minister - not that I agreed with all of the policies she oversaw/implemented, but that's not the point, she was on top of her portfolios.

He doesn't have a PhD, as far as I'm aware. He did some post grad at Oxford though, yes.

Not sure Kate. Believe she is pretty savvy. Unless there is a catastrophic implosion in the coalition very hard to see National regain power next year. National has no viable coalition partner. Even Key at his popular political peak couldn’t get them across the line on their own. So Judith Collins would be ill advised to risk defeat as the leader, especially a thumping as Bill English did after he took over from Shipley, for instance.

Probably true that if she took over the leadership now it would be for another term as Opposition leader. But I don't think that would bother her. She's the only one of them with any ranking that sees the opportunity associated with being an opposition politician. The rest of them are like rabbits in the headlights - totally ineffective stunned mullets.

Well I would make it a 50/50 call. And the only reason I side with you that much is because there is a slight chance that if the Greens & NZF are not returned, NZ could produce a FPP government out of a MMP election. Quaint little country that it is. So yes if she boosts National in the stakes, she could ride that horse home well enough. Call me long shot Foxglove if you like. And yes while at it, I agree that this current government has done far too much academic spouting and a paucity of actual governing. Disappointing! While the media is quick to assail WP he actually has kept the back relatively straight and parry off some of the unnecessaries. Voted for him last time, for the first time, for that reason, may have have to do so again.

He delivered an excellent press conference today. It was a free-for-all question time on a number of highly charged political issues - and he stuck it to the National Party big time. Really, he's a guy you want to have on your side where their are difficult issues/questions. Here it is in full - worth watching in full as the media snippets/summaries are useless;

Collins is untenable, too polarising. Leaders have to be able to not only attract support, but also not put off too many.

A term of her own, as opposition leader, and she has a three-year opportunity to mea culpa. If you watch her one-on-one media interviews, she's already working that.

But whether people see a complete about-face of character as credible is an issue. So many of her issues seemed to indicate a simple preference for expediency and personal gain over any ethical concerns...Does that really change in a person? Seems a fairly base level character issue.

It's this kind of media comment that will win her favour. She plays opposition by giving credit where credit is due. I think she would do the same in terms of supporting good legislation -which would be particularly useful in NZ where too often we find MMP results in the tail wagging the dog.

She will be the female version of 'Smiling Assassin'. Her smile is winsome though unlike JK's.

I'm afraid I see Jack Nicholson's Joker.


You really want Collins? Your post suggests to me that you see her as a more Trump like character and thus,more appealing to 'those struggling middle classes'. I rather hope that most Kiwis would reject his 'values'. Collins and Trump certainly share a total ignorance of climate change and that would resonate with a significant cohort within the National party. Do you want that?

It's not "want" in the sense of want her to lead the country, rather in the sense of want the country to have an effective opposition - and I suspect she'd be a more effective opposition than Simon Bridges. She'd also clean out the ABCs in the caucus and demand a higher level of work from a new front bench.

SB is spouting BusinessSpeak.
'Our bottom line is You'. Does is mean 'You are at the bottom of Our List' ?
Or "You contribute to Our Profits' ? (Admission by National).

no it means once we get to you there is no money for your health or education as we have spent it all on roads and flags

... the Kiwi bird with the laser beam coming out of its eyes was particulay good .. .. reckon we shoulda gone with that ... a nice juxtaposition of the old and the new ... cool , very cool flag . .

A consistent feature of Conservative Parties everywhere is a need to secure a third of working class. Of course in NZ and elsewhere we do not call them that anymore. They are all Kiwis or better "hard-working Kiwi families" - knowing that over 65s will vote for them anyway and anyone not working are despised and inadequate anyway and less likely to vote, period. Fortunately about a third of said WC is easily convinced by racist innuendo re ethnicities (except Asian of course, - see "hard-working" and contributing to National coffers). Nationalism and aggregation of all as "Kiwis" and all in same boat drivel is standard stuff by those who want no emphasis on inequality and unequal outcomes from government policy - perish the thought. The new normal since 2014 approx is that Right wing suck up to WC with no qualifications, making it easier to sell their own "fake news" as they like to call it (or independent facts, as researcher oriented social scientists used to be able to call it, and which is now regarded as "talking down to folk") National appeal is to those (other than the identified 33% of WC) who have done v nicely out of nil CGT and nil IHT and sucking up rents from bottom 50%. They are staple voters. Plus farmers. Hence National unlikely to poll under 40% and Labour will be in trouble if Greens and nZF do to stay over 5%

the concept of party that only looks at a portion of electors' interests has becoming more and more outdated and unsustainable in future. These parties can only serve the purposes of dividing its people and making no progress on economic development front.

A new form of party that has been tested in Singapore for the past 70 years, and China for the past 40 years is proven working a lot better.

The latest posting from Troll Farm 4 in Beijing.

Yeah, what we need is a single party government that uses the organs of the state to torture its own people and lock up 2mm++ in concentration camps.

We'd love that here. Much like we would love the idea of having some power junkie as president for life.

PRC government are corrupt Mafia, exploiting, murdering and ethnically cleansing their citizens to aggrandise Han ethnicity and themselves personally. 2% of Chinese Billionaires are dying 'unnaturally' every year, many being killed openly by the Party. An average colonel in PLA is worth 10's of millions, Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao's family enriched themselves with billions. Party did an OK job in economic reforms of 80's-00's (perhaps as a result of experiencing horrors of the cultural revolution) but younger generation of Mandarins are more evil. And compared to development of post-war Taiwan and South Korea they are doing a terrible job. Lee Kwan Yew was an extreme anomaly in world history; a benevolent authoritarian dictator. But they have become rich through location in the Straits of Malacca with 30-40% of world's trade sailing within a few km of their Mega ports.

Surely 2% is a low figure? If you get your billion aged 25 and live to 75 on average then 2% is a typical death rate. I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'unnaturally'.

2% (a figure from memory) was not including natural deaths.
Eg a 2011 reprot: "Since 2003, 72 billionaires in the Chinese mainland have died an unnatural death, the Changchun-based New Culture News reported Friday. The paper reached such a conclusion after conducting a survey of the public reports of billionaires' deaths over the past eight years. Among the 72 billionaires, 15 were murdered, 17 committed suicide, seven died from accidents, 14 were executed according to the law and 19 died from diseases."

A party that defines what the electors' interests are.

. . if the new form of political party is proven to work a lot better in China for 40 years , why are you here , not there ?

Interesting article, "Trump is Hitler" National Conservatives are Nazis and then right at the end Bridges generic comment is used to compare him to a Nazi. It's true though, because everyone I don't like, is a Nazi, LITRALLY.


The word 'nationalist' is getting a bad press - Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin - all pushed the nationalist button. But so did Mandela and Ghandi. If the National party actually pushed for the nation rather than the interests of a mainly wealthy elite willing to sell the family silver then I might consider them. But currently I'm still hoping the Labour party will get in touch with people who work (aka 'workers') rather than playing identity politics and oscillating between meeting business leaders, local politicians and beneficiaries.

Yep, good points!


But it's a big swingabout for any politician in NZ to (for example) to start thinking "How do we make things more viable for a productive, hard-working young couple to manage their careers or start a business, and have more than one child?" rather than "Let's just import some more cheap labour to boost the numbers this year, we can pretend waiting tables equals highly-skilled". Likewise for making housing more affordable versus funneling more of that couple's taxes into rent floor raising accommodation supplements, and wage-suppressing Working for Families...

One's hard and the other's an easy band-aid for nominal GDP numbers, papering over the gaps etc.

What is your definition of "wealthy elite" ?

I am pretty sure I do not qualify - and yet Labour / COL are so far from representing my interests that Nats easily win my vote , albeit by default.

Pretty hard to be a credible nationalist country when you need foreign corporations to provide such basic services as parking cars (Wilsons) and picking up your rubbish (Waste Management), auction your own fruit and veg (Turners and Growers) and any number of other activities. You are daydreaming if you think NZ has any hope of going it alone now.

Godwin 1, Trotter 0

"The rise of Donald Trump has fundamentally deranged the Republican Party"

You could equally have a case, saying that his rise has deranged the Democratic Party also

You'd have to also argue that the Republican Party had to be pretty damned deranged to accept someone like Trump in the first place

last refuge of the scoundrel

if Bridges can get a crowd to chant "lock her up", I'll give him a vote just on that achievement alone..

Unfortunately with his lack of charisma, I doubt he could get laid in a whorehouse, let alone get someone to chant for him.

The Gnats need the Crusher to lead them : to root , rip , and tear up the joint ... softly softly Simon is gaining no traction with the electorate ...

... after losing the 2020 election , and the dust and rubble have settled .. the Gnats could instil Mark Mitchell as a leader capable of beating the Taxcinda coalition ....

"Our Bottom Line is You". It separates National from the public. An 'us' and 'them' slogan for sure.

Contrast that to Labour's unifying slogan, "Let's Do This" - hands down labor's slogan is better.

How did National come to choose, at best a banal slogan, and at worst a slogan which could imply the public are at the bottom of the proverbial 'list'.

Labour's slogan wasn't group conferenced or polled, yet they managed to get it right.

It's ironic that National's famous ad campaign features rowing - they are rudderless! I mean, roll out more Milton Friedman and Keynesian Economics ..

The whole 'running the government as a household' is absolute claptrap, governments are not households! Simon Bridges is a toxic brand .. some of these National MPs need to be moved along, at pace!

I don't know what dinky thinking is going on in the National Party, I'd hate to think they're scared to change leaders. The redeeming quality of Donald Trump is when something is not working, he trys something different.

When the facts change, so do my conclusions, what do you do Sir?

And the ad trailer we got a short look at featuring Simon as Uncle Sam staring down the barrel, makes the slogan even more stomach churning.

I felt the rowing ad was really sleek/professional with a great 'pretty legal' choice in backing track. Plus the dingy added good political attack humour. It had to be a good ad, because by that stage of their reign I loathed them and was really, really despondent every time it played on prime time TV :-).

I think the common taters on Chris Trotter's view should reread his last two paragraphs. Very well put.
But given the nats determined neglect of the housing issue, and the negative effects that reverberate through almost everything that effects Nee Zealanders, I don't believe they will implement their slogan.

Are you saying their bottom line is...... China!

I have been a conservative all my life, both in my societal attitudes and my voting and much of what passes for conservative discourse doesn't represent my brand of "conservative". Conservatism has always had a bit of an element of resisting change and I think that is good. No proposed change should simply be enacted without resistance to check it. It is usually the left, but also "elites"and now the "right", that get impatient with evolutionary change and wants to impose their particular flavour of the month riding roughshod over objections. Probably inevitably the backlash has arrived but as is often the case the backlash goes to far the other way: Trumpism, Brexit, and so on. Nothing much at tat level in NZ but elements in Australia. Resistance to reality such as extant climate change is not good conservatism but simply stubborn wishful thinking. A conservative approach would be to say if the current model is radically changing what has been the case it should be questioned and resisted, including environmental, economic, technological, social and cultural changes - whether from the "left" or from the "right".

Paradoxically, this call for an enhanced degree of national unity is a direct consequence of Trump’s deliberate fostering of national division.
No humans are not designed for multicultural society - unless you can clearly demonstrate the benefits of immigration from all over. Ipsos has clearly shown it is nativism ( identity threat) which lead to Trumps election. It was liberals in Western countries who decided a national identity was an idea that should be done away with. Minorities love multiculturalism except when it happens to them.

The President knows that in politics nothing matters more than picking a side and sticking to it. Trump’s key demographic is white Americans without college degrees. They elected him and he has never stopped thanking them for it. Not so according to Eric Kaufmann