Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee has one important attribute that most foreign affairs mandarins lack. He gets the Donald Trump phenomenon.

This is an important attribute for NZ's chief diplomat, who takes on the foreign affairs portfolio at a time when the Trump-led United States has switched to a hawkish (if demonstrative) approach by bombing Syria and Afghanistan and is ramping up the rhetoric on North Korea.

It comes also as the US Administration prepares to lay out more detail over the upcoming tax reforms that will underline just how protectionist it will be in practice.

Many Kiwis - including those in the political classes - are scandalised that the United States has elected the (at times) boorish Trump as its President.


But Brownlee is a pragmatist. During an informal discussion during a BusinessNZ function earlier this year - when the Trump phenomenon was a major talking point for those who justifiably worry that it heralds a new age of protectionism - the then Defence Minister ran against the current by suggesting that the US President had a point when he questioned the loss of American jobs that followed the offshoring of US manufacturing.

There was plenty more besides.

Brownlee had been no less forthcoming when Trump was the subject of debate on the outskirts of another political gathering I attended late last year.

This particular attribute may not have been top of mind when Bill English awarded him the coveted foreign affairs portfolio on Monday.

But at a time when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mfat) has been directed to take a 24/7 approach to monitoring the Trump Administration, having a minister who is interested in what the President stands for and is prepared to forge a personal connection with key players in Washington, will be a plus.

The other pluses are Brownlee's background in defence during which he has forged strong personal links with key Chinese military figures, and, in a personal sense, the quality of relatability which he has in spades.

It has to be said that the Foreign Affairs Minister would have been in his element working the room at the inauguration gala that Ambassador Tim Groser threw at the NZ Embassy at Observatory Circle Washington in January.

He would not have been concerned that senior US military men enjoyed a cigar but would have enjoyed making connections.

He can be combative (English referred to him as "blunt when he needs to be and diplomatic when he needs to be"). He's not afraid to call out incompetents. But he is also witty.

His predecessor Murray McCully has already gone to Washington and met Rex Tillerson at the counter-Isis (Islamic State) talks hosted by the Secretary of State earlier this year. Trade Minister Todd McClay - who has been waiting for Robert Lighthizer to be confirmed as the US Trade Representative - is understood to be lined up for one of the first bilaterals with the USTR (assuming a waiver is awarded and he is finally confirmed by the US Senate).

This positioning for New Zealand is the result of good staff work by Mfat HQ and the Washington embassy.

All want to avoid any repeat of the Muslim travel ban fiasco where prospective NZ travellers to the US could not get clarity for some days on just who was covered. That issue has settled down. But the relationship will continue to be marked with volatility for some time to come.

Trump's own tenure as President hits the 100-day mark this week.

The President has slated that major announcements are pending, covering the White House tax reform plan which is still expected to outline Trump's preference for a 15 per cent corporate rate.

This poses a problem for the lawmakers on Capitol Hill as the federal budget must still be funded. But also unclear is whether the tax reforms will include a proposed border adjustability tax which has come under fire from trading partners as not adhering to the obligations the US has as a member of the rules-based World Trading Organisation.

Since Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), New Zealand has joined other TPP members like Australia and Japan in pledging to try and move forward without the US.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the US was also expected to be consigned to the dustbin. But there are now hopes in trade circles that will be reversed. What is a plus is that China and the US are working to avert a trade war.

These moves are disconcerting. But the policy flux demonstrates that the Trump Administration is still bedding itself in.

There are also uncertainties with Europe (particularly France where the election runoff for the presidency is still to take place) and in Britain where Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a snap election.

Also with Australia, where Brownlee's combination of bluntness and diplomacy ought to pave the way for him to confront the Turnbull Government's latest immigration affront which makes it even harder for New Zealanders to qualify for Australian citizenship.

For the importance of having a relatable foreign minister, look no further than NZ First leader and former foreign minister Winston Peters. McCully has rightly been given a good deal of credit for the normalisation of the bilateral relationship between NZ and the US. But it was Peters - who forged a bond with former Republican Secretary of State Condi Rice when he held the portfolio during the Helen Clark Government - who started the process.

It's been said that Brownlee will offer himself up as a sacrifice if English needs to make a post-election accommodation with Peters.

That doesn't matter. What happens in the next six months does.