As he revs up for what seems like an inevitable presidential run, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems eager to brand himself as an expert on global affairs.
The Republican on Tuesday will be in the nation’s capital, where he’ll speak about foreign policy at the 45th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas. Christie will be the only governor speaking, joining an impressive line-up that includes Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Christie, who has been very critical of the Obama administration’s handling of foreign policy, especially during a nine-stop tour of New Hampshire last week, will also share the spotlight at the event with several members of the president’s cabinet. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews are also slated to speak.
The governor is expected to give a “view from the states,” according to the program. Christie’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for more details about his prepared remarks. But Christine Gomes, a program associate at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, noted that the governor has made recent trips to Canada and Mexico. “He’s been exploring more ties with North America, so we thought it would be appropriate and that he’d like to share things he learned and what he hopes to do to better coordinate with those two countries," she said.
Christie, who is trying to push the 2016 reset button as he finds himself near the back of the pack of the emerging GOP field, clearly sees an opportunity — or at least a weakness to shore up — on foreign policy. In New Hampshire, Christie criticized President Obama a day after he recommended Cuba be taken off a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Christie has been calling on Cuba to extradite Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Panther Party who fled to Cuba after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1977. “It is a national disgrace that this president would even consider normalizing relations while they are harboring a terrorist murderer who belongs in prison in New Jersey,” said the governor.
He also said he had “grave concerns” about the emerging deal between the U.S. and Iran to curb the country’s nuclear ambitions and said he was open to putting U.S. soldiers “into the fight” against the terrorist group known as ISIS.
During his Granite State swing, Christie also took a jab at potential competitor Jeb Bush, arguing he doesn’t know where the former governor of Florida stands on foreign policy.
Tough talk. But the governor actually has very little foreign policy experience. Before his trip to Mexico last fall, which was billed as an economic trade mission, the GOPer had taken just one other trip outside the country as governor—to Israel in 2012. Since the Mexico visit, he’s also gone on similar trips to both England and Canada.
The headlines that came out of the trips, however, weren’t particularly good. When Christie went to Mexico, he refused to talk about immigration, even though a flood of immigrants illegally crossing the U.S. border was the number one issue at the time. He told reporters he would only discuss the issue “if and when I become a candidate for president.” And in England, Christie’s trip was overshadowed by controversial remarks about vaccinations, with Christie saying that parents should “have some measure of choice” when it comes to getting their children inoculated. The governor walked back those remarks.
“His trips overseas have not proven to be his best moments,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey.
Still, Christie is pushing ahead, with detailed proposals for entitlement reform and perhaps next, foreign policy. “What he’s trying to do is show he’s presidential by looking at these policies and coming up with proposals. Foreign policy is one area where you have to have some expertise. He’s trying to show himself as being the most substantive policy candidate in the field,” said Murray.
Of course, Christie is one of several potential Republican presidential candidates who have very little to no foreign policy experience, with several trying to increase the number of stamps in their passports as well. After all, whoever wins the nomination will likely take on Hillary Clinton, who frequently boasts of visiting 112 countries during her tenure as secretary of state.