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POLITICS: PennAve

Chris Christie looks to build foreign policy credentials

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Politics,Marco Rubio,2016 Elections,Rand Paul,Ted Cruz,Mexico,Campaigns,Chris Christie,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,Rick Perry,Foreign Policy

It often seems like Gov. Chris Christie has a strong opinion on just about everything.

But on many foreign policy issues, the brash New Jersey Republican has shied away from taking a stance, regularly using his job as governor as an excuse not to weigh in.

At the National Governors Association meeting earlier this year, for example, Christie was asked whether he thought the U.S. should take military action against Hamas.

“I’m not going to give opinions on that,” he said, according to a report in Time magazine. “I’m not the president.”

But that could change soon. As Christie heads to Mexico for his first big foreign policy trip, he is seeking to chip away at a potential vulnerability for his likely 2016 presidential campaign.

The trip, which began Wednesday and will last until Friday, is being billed as a trade mission on behalf of New Jersey. Christie will meet with business and government leaders, including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

It was organized, Christie’s office has said, to promote economic and cultural ties between New Jersey and Mexico, but it will also serve the added purpose for Christie personally of beefing up his talking points on immigration reform and deepening his foreign policy credentials. Both spheres are likely to remain at the political forefront throughout the 2016 election.

“This trip knocks out several birds with a pretty big stone,” said Hogan Gidley, who served as communications director for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign. “So, should he decide to run for president, he's got real-world, real-life experiences that he can point to.”

For Christie and other potential Republican presidential contenders, foreign travel is an important resumé line, particularly facing the prospect of a likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who logged more than 950,000 air miles around the world as secretary of state.

Many would-be Republican candidates have already logged travel miles to foreign countries this year, including Sen. Marco Rubio, who visited the Philippines, Japan and South Korea in January; and Sen. Rand Paul, who last month performed eye surgeries in Guatemala.

Meanwhile, at home, some of the most heated discussions among Republicans have focused on foreign policy issues, and experience in that sphere is an important qualification to enter the discussion.

The most aggressive salvos have been exchanged between Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who sparred earlier this year over the growing threat posed by ISIS.

“It’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul, suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq,” Perry wrote on the subject in an op-ed published by the Washington Post.

Paul shot back: “There are obviously many important events going on in the world right now, but with 60,000 foreign children streaming across the Texas border, I am surprised Governor Perry has apparently still found time to mischaracterize and attack my foreign policy.”

Perry has since sent the Texas National Guard to the Mexico border, another claim he could very well make to engage in foreign policy decisions.

As these debates have played out, Christie has remained on the sidelines, but his entrance onto the foreign stage might soon bring him onto the field of play.

Much will depend on the success of Christie’s expedition, as foreign trips are rife with potential pitfalls.

Lanhee Chen, who served as Mitt Romney’s chief policy adviser during his 2012 presidential campaign, traveled with Romney during his much publicized trip to Europe and Israel, and Chen was also involved in the planning process. Chen recalls a laundry list of decisions and considerations from picking the countries to visit, to deciding how sternly to criticize the president.

“We tried to be respectful of the president because we were abroad, and Governor Romney felt it wasn’t appropriate to full-on attack the president’s foreign policy while on foreign soil,” Chen said. “You need to sort of calibrate that.”

When Sen. Ted Cruz visited a potpourri of countries in May, including Israel, he took the opposite approach, saying President Obama had decided “to criticize and harangue and pressure the Israeli government.”

In Romney’s case, the abundance of caution and decorum didn’t ultimately pay off: The Republican presidential candidate received more press for a string of gaffes than for anything else.

“It could be a big net positive if [Christie] organizes and executes the trip in the right way,” Chen said, “but obviously foreign trips are not without risk, either, as we've seen in the past couple of campaigns.”

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