Tags: Trump Administration | Bobby Jindal | GOP2016 | Mike Huckabee | Scott Walker | 2016

For 2016 White House Hopefuls, It's Time to Pack Passports

Tuesday, 10 February 2015 09:43 PM

As presidential aspirants weigh possible 2016 runs, many are hitting the road far beyond Iowa or New Hampshire, to unofficial campaign stops where passports are required: London, Tokyo, and Jerusalem.

The international tour has become obligatory for U.S. politicians, with candidates eager to build name recognition and burnish foreign policy credentials — not just in the American heartland but across the pond and further afield.

And with likely Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton having served as secretary of state and negotiated with dozens of world leaders, many Republican adversaries no doubt see themselves playing catch-up on the international stage.

Some would-be contenders began racking up frequent-flyer miles two years before the election, including then-Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who visited China and Japan last September.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who topped a recent New Hampshire poll of Republican contenders, began a four-day trade mission to London Monday.

The two-term executive met British trade officials and business leaders, a week after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Britain visit was consumed by controversy over his comments on the ongoing vaccination debate stateside.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal returned last month from 10 days in Germany, Switzerland, and Britain, where he criticized Muslim immigrant "no-go" zones in Europe.

"For many of these companies, it was their first exposure to Wisconsin, and we made some inroads that could pay dividends in the long run," Walker said Tuesday from London.

He was referring to boosting trade opportunities, but he may as well have been talking about his own broader exposure.

While foreign visits become rites of passage for pursuers of higher U.S. office, they can trip up a candidate just as easily as hone those foreign policy chops.

Mitt Romney comes to mind. In July 2012 the Republican nominee ventured to Britain, Israel, and Poland.

But the trip was bombarded with bad press after his poorly-timed remarks about Olympics security, comments in Israel that angered Palestinians, and an aide's outburst at reporters.

"That was an example of doing the wrong thing, and that actually is much more of a problem than had you done the right thing being a positive," Princeton University professor and presidential expert Julian Zelizer told AFP. 

Christie's recent London trip, in which he met with Prime Minister David Cameron, may not have reached that level of disaster.

But when the often-brash governor was dragged into America's debate over vaccines, his response that parents should have "some measure of choice" over immunizing their children triggered criticism back home.

"You want to make sure you don't do anything that's an embarrassment or that gives you negative news coverage. In that respect I think Chris Christie failed," Zelizer said.

Candidates know full well there might be less importance in the trips themselves than in preventing rivals from exploiting a gap in their resume.

"'You haven't even met David Cameron.' That's a line that could travel against somebody, and you just want to wipe it out" before a campaign gets started, said Pope McCorkle, an associate public policy professor at Duke University.

For some, trips abroad can work magic.

When Obama visited Europe in July 2008 after securing the Democratic nomination, he gave an outdoor speech in Berlin that drew 100,000 people and helped the first-term senator build his stature as a statesman.

Israel is a popular draw, with Republicans going there in part to appeal to Christian conservatives.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence spent last Christmas in Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Arkansas ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee leads a trip to the Holy Land on Saturday.

As the 9/11 attacks of 2001 dimmed and the U.S. economy struggled, Americans turned to domestic issues during recent presidential races.

But now, with the economy improving and crises simmering abroad, foreign policy will be "central to the 2016 campaign," insisted Aaron Miller, former adviser to several secretaries of state and current scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

"That means that more than a few candidates better start boning up on which countries border Ukraine and what's the difference between Nusra and ISIS," Miller said.

© AFP 2018

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As presidential aspirants weigh possible 2016 runs, many are hitting the road far beyond Iowa or New Hampshire, to unofficial campaign stops where passports are required: London, Tokyo, and Jerusalem.
2016, presidential, election, race, foreign policy, Republicans, travel, abroad
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 09:43 PM
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