Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is becoming something of a globe-trotter as world affairs loom large in the 2016 Republican presidential race and attention has been drawn to his early foreign policy stumbles.
He began a weeklong visit to Germany, France and Spain on Friday, and in May plans to go to Israel, a touchstone for many U.S. politicians with presidential aspirations. Meantime his political group, Our American Revival, has bulked up on staffers to coach Walker on foreign policy, a gap in his resume as he considers entering the GOP presidential contest.
Walker faltered during a London trip in February, refusing to answer questions about foreign policy during an appearance at an international affairs think tank and dodging questions about evolution. Back at home, in an otherwise well-received speech to conservative activists, he drew ridicule when he suggested that his political fight with labor union protesters in Wisconsin helped prepare him to combat global terrorism as president.
When Walker said this week he would revoke a nuclear deal with Iran on his first day in the White House, President Barack Obama said the governor should “bone up on foreign policy.”
Walker called that remark “unbelievable.”
The governor has had less experience abroad than many of his potential 2016 rivals. He didn’t travel overseas at all the first two years he was governor, or in 2014 when running for re-election. In 2013, he went to China and Japan.
Walker’s trip to Europe is a trade mission, with two public events planned in Germany and the rest of his meetings behind closed doors.
“To me, if you’re doing your job well, obviously there’s a political advantage,” he told The Associated Press. “Talking about anything other than trade issues related to the state is not appropriate.
“Beyond that, if I was just on a political trip overseas, I still wouldn’t talk about that. I’m old school. I believe in that tradition when you’re on foreign soil you shouldn’t be talking about foreign affairs,” he said.
That tradition is commonly understood to mean that U.S. politicians, while abroad, do not criticize U.S. foreign policy or the president, not that they decline to discuss international affairs.
Lanhee Chen, a Republican strategist who served as policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, thought Walker’s travel was a good idea.
“The trip is useful in terms of building relationships and getting the experience of being abroad,” Chen said. “I don’t really see any risks.”
Walker met British Prime Minister David Cameron in his London trip. Walker said the focus of his first visit to Israel will be to get a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East by meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials.
Netanyahu, who has repeatedly criticized the emerging U.S. deal with Iran to curb that nation’s nuclear program, has become a favorite of many Republican politicians.
The governor plans to return from Europe earlier than the rest of the trade delegation so he can join other GOP presidential hopefuls for a political event April 18 in New Hampshire.
Low expectations for Walker on foreign policy could play to his advantage, said Kevin Madden, a Republican consultant and adviser to Romney’s 2012 campaign.
“You can surprise people and they will begin to take notice,” Madden said.
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