New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is off to Mexico Wednesday for what's being billed as an economic trade mission for the state -- but the three-day trip is fueling further speculation he’s seriously considering a 2016 presidential run, trying to beef up his foreign policy credentials and win over potential Hispanic voters.
“If there was any doubt about the governor’s presidential ambitions, this trip should allay them,” Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University said. “You don’t make these kinds of trips from New Jersey at this time of the year with the chatter going on about your presidential ambitions unless those ambitions are true.”
The governor plans to tour local companies, meet with business leaders in Mexico City, and visit with the country’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto. He'll also stop in the state of Puebla, where many Mexicans living in New Jersey come from.
Christie, an outspoken critic of President Obama’s handling of the border crisis, said at a recent news conference in Sea Bright N.J. that the “main thrust” of his trip will be to strengthen economic opportunities between New Jersey and Mexico.
Despite skewering Obama over the summer for his unwillingness to visit the Mexico border—where tens of thousands of immigrants are illegally crossing into the U.S., Christie said his trip does not include a stop there.
Christie, at the news conference, asked “What would I do exactly? ... Bring troops with me or something? I mean, come on. This is silliness.” He argued, “The president has his responsibilities. I have mine.” Potential 2016 candidate, Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal – who has said he wants to deport most of the unaccompanied immigrant children and teens who have crossed into the U.S. -- visited the border last month.
Unlike several potential 2016 competitors, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry, Christie has taken a more conciliatory note when addressing the immigration crisis. At a recent stop in the political powerhouse state of Iowa, the governor said that while not enough was being done to secure the border, “We are an empathetic people in this country and we don’t’ like seeing people suffer.” Breaking from other governors, Christie has said he’ll also consider housing immigrant children in New Jersey, who are coming from the southern border, on a case-by-case basis.
The trip is also being seen as a way for Christie to reach out to potential Hispanic voters. After all, failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accrued just 27% of that demographic’s vote in 2012. Dworkin said that because Christie has yet to articulate specific plans on immigration and because the Hispanic electorate is so diverse, the impact of actually wooing potential voters as a direct result of the trip would likely be minimal.
“But the trip helps. It’s certainly a chance to bond with that community and to show an affinity and appreciation of the Spanish-speaking population in America,” he said.
The governor is seen as a candidate with few foreign policy credentials. He’s taken just one other trip outside the country as governor, to Israel in 2012. Christie, who once led the GOP pack in the nascent race to become the party’s nominee in 2016, has seen his approval ratings take a hit following state and federal probe into allegations that some of his staffers and allies closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge back in September -- seemingly for political retribution. Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the scheme.