If you didn’t pick the result of the United States presidential race last November, you’re in good company. Veteran US political activist and former Gibbston home owner Dick Allen, who worked for presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, talks turkey about Donald Trump with Philip Chandler
It’s August 26 last year, just over two months till controversial Republican Donald Trump’s surprise win in the United States presidential election.
Republican stalwart and former Wakatipu holiday home owner Dick Allen co-writes an article that’s “front and centre” in The Washington Post.
Assuming Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton will win in a landslide, he and his co-writer state that “Republicans must look past the 2016 presidential election and start planning for the 2018 and 2020 comebacks”.
Allen’s not just any old pundit – he’s been involved in US politics since 1962.
He campaigned and worked for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, early in their presidencies.
And in the race for the Republican nomination last year, he was foreign policy adviser for the ‘last man standing’ against Trump, Ohio governor John Kasich.
Fast-forward to March 4, and Allen, 81, is chatting about Trump outside The Stables restaurant in Arrowtown.
He and his wife Pat are on what he calls his “swansong” visit to the Wakatipu – their first since selling their Gibbston holiday home in 2012.
Allen has had major policymaking and academic roles in the US, and been a guest professor at Otago University’s department of politics.
Is he embarrassed about so publicly writing off Trump?
“I like getting things right,” he says, “but no, I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed.
“I guess you might say a modicum of embarrassment, but more anger.”
How did he get it so wrong, then?
“How did everybody get it wrong?
“We under-estimated the degree to which eight years of [Democrat President Barack] Obama had so bitterly divided the nation.
“What some people unkindly called the white underclass was very active this time.
“People who didn’t vote normally, because they thought it was all a scam, finally saw in Donald Trump somebody who would do something for them, who had so much money that he didn’t care about getting money.”
As an aside, Allen says it’s a “myth” that people go into politics to make money – “it’s not so at all, I can guarantee you”.
He was “crestfallen”, he admits, at Trump’s victory on November 8.
“The man strikes me – I’ve never met him – as an unbridled egomaniac, and it’s all about him.”
So far, Allen says, Trump’s “highly disorganised – we just got a full cabinet [this month], which is ridiculous”.
“In 1968, I ran Mr Nixon’s foreign policy.
“He had a plan, and he knew what he wanted to do in the world, and it led ultimately to detente and opening up China.
“With Reagan, I had entire teams of people ready to go on day one.”
Trump, he says, doesn’t realise that all legislation that deals with money must originate in the House of Representatives.
“Trump has so far failed to understand this basic fact, but he’s going to understand it very quickly.”
Allen says if Trump’s rule is going to be a “Twitter presidency” it’ll be a disaster.
“If he settles in, tries to learn something and delivers public addresses more or less like the one he gave [to Congress on February 28], he can get better.”
Allen recalls he first visited Queenstown during a trip round New Zealand in 1998, after persistent urging from former National Party chairman Sue Wood.
Driving into town, he saw a sign at Gibbston’s Peregrine advertising ‘lifestyle blocks for sale’.
He eventually bought a block and had a house designed by Queenstown architect Michael Wyatt – “it was the first house we ever designed by fax machine”.
After regular summer visits, and making many friends around Queenstown, he sold the home, though with regrets.
He and Pat had put a lot of work into their property, he explains, but it had got harder in latter years as he went through back surgeries stemming back to a plane crash he’d survived in 1973.
Based now in Denver, Colorado, they’ve also been busy enough looking after their beachside holiday home off the coast of New Jersey, which their seven children, their spouses and their 22 grandchildren also frequent.
After his Queenstown visit this month, the couple left for Australia to see another former Gibbston holiday home owner, ex-New South Wales premier Bob Carr.
Allen: “We sort of induced him to buy over here.
“Even though he’s on the other side of politics, he’s one of the most brilliant political leaders I’ve ever met.”
Seems like Trump’s got a long way to go before he’ll also be in Allen’s good books.