LONDON — Chris Christie watched Premiere League football. He had a pub lunch and visited a monument to Shakespeare. He was photographed walking through the iconic door of No. 10 Downing Street. But if the New Jersey governor’s three-day trip to the United Kingdom represented a chance to project a substantive worldview ahead of a presidential run, he passed up the opportunity.
“I’m not going to get into that now,” Christie told msnbc when asked what role NATO should play in the world. The trans-Atlantic alliance has been a cornerstone of U.S. security policy for decades.
“Is there something you don’t understand about ‘no questions’?” Christie asked sarcastically when a Washington Post reporter tried to ask about ISIS on Tuesday. On Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. should consider putting troops on the ground to fight the Islamic State. On Tuesday, a new video surfaced purporting to show the group burning a Jordanian hostage to death.
Officially, the three-day trip that took Christie to London and Cambridge was a trade mission on behalf of New Jersey. But the sojourn came the same week he announced a new political action committee to raise money for a presidential run — and represented a chance for Christie to demonstrate his ability to stand on the larger world stage. Instead, it was upstaged by the domestic debate over vaccinations against measles and punctuated by a damaging New York Times story about his habit of traveling in luxury while others picked up the tab.
“Parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide,” Christie said when he was asked Monday about the measles vaccine. His office quickly issued a statement clarifying his remarks, but he had already lit up the debate back at home — and awoke to a Wall Street Journal editorial headlined “Christie’s Vaccine Stumble.”
With vaccines and the travel story on the front page of the New York Times Tuesday, his staff canceled two planned press availabilities. Christie also stayed silent after a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, even though he had planned to make remarks.
During the course of the trip, Christie didn’t try to duck the questions by invoking the time-honored tradition that many U.S. politicians have followed: Leaving politics at the water’s edge and presenting a united American front abroad. The closest he came to enunciating his own foreign policy views was in response to a question about a long-pending trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union that British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to accelerate. President Obama supports the agreement, though it’s been delayed in part by concerns among labor allies in the Democratic Party.
“The president has not proven himself to be the most adept negotiator, in my opinion, on behalf of American interests. And so that’s the first hurdle,” Christie said. “You need someone in the White House who’s going to be a good and effective negotiator.”
Christie’s trip to London was his fourth abroad as governor and third in recent months. While he might not have articulated policy views, the imagery — of him meeting with high-level officials, taking in the soccer match, strolling down the picturesque King’s Parade at Cambridge — cast him in a different context than doing his day job in New Jersey would. Even so, the approach he took here was different from when he visited Canada and gave an energy policy speech that urged building the controversial Keystone Pipeline.
Still, it was clear throughout the three-day trip that Christie had calibrated his usually freewheeling style for a trip that was high on personal diplomacy. In between meetings with Osborne and Cameron, both of whom he said he had met previously, he was cheerful but seemed almost English in his reserve. He was willing to chat about the sights and sounds he came across — he and his wife’s many trips to London as tourists, Cambridge University’s architectural similarities to Princeton — but wouldn’t engage on the political questions that usually spark spirited exchanges with reporters and the public.
Asked Sunday after Arsenal Football Club beat Aston Villa 5-0, the governor dismissed all talk of the 2016 presidential race.
“I’m not processing a lot at the moment,” Christie said. “I’ve processed some soccer. That was about it.”