LONDON — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie began an overseas trip Sunday exclaiming how much he loved being back in London, one of his favorite cities to visit. The Republican ended it Tuesday by refusing to answer questions lobbed at him all day by reporters.
Journeying to England for three days to polish his foreign policy résumé ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign, the likely candidate ended up having little to say about foreign policy.
Unlike other White House hopefuls on international trips, Christie did not deliver a formal speech here, so his remarks came mostly in limited interactions with the reporters covering his travels. The governor said little of substance and the exchanges provided no particular insight into how he might represent the United States abroad or his views about the nation’s place in the world.
Asked about Prime Minister David Cameron’s austerity measures, Christie talked instead about his own spending cuts in New Jersey. Pressed on the role NATO should play in the world, he told MSNBC, “I’m not going to get into that now.”
And when The Washington Post asked whether he had discussed the Islamic State terrorist threat in his private meetings with Cameron and his cabinet members, Christie snapped. “No questions,” he said. “Is there something you don’t understand about ‘No questions’?”
Tuesday, it turned out, became a day of no answers. Christie capped a difficult trip by canceling two media availabilities that were on his schedule as well as brief remarks he planned to give outside 10 Downing Street after his lunch with the chancellor of the Exchequer.
The closest Christie came to articulating a foreign policy vision was on Monday in Cambridge, where he criticized President Obama as a weak negotiator in response to a reporter’s question about the U.S. trade talks that have been a British priority.
“I think the president has shown over and over again that he’s not the most effective negotiator, whether you’re talking about the Iranian nuclear talks or whether you’re talking about his recent foray into Cuba,” Christie said.
Christie’s closed-door meetings here with government officials as well as executives in the life sciences and financial services industries were substantive and productive, aides said. They defended his decision not to give a policy address, saying he made formal remarks during trips to Mexico and Canada last year because those countries share a border with the United States.
“It didn’t make sense for him to come here and give a showy speech,” said Maria Comella, Christie’s communications adviser. “In the long run, what he’s doing is a lot more worthwhile. He’s listening and learning and that helps him develop a base and core in terms of his foreign policy viewpoints.”
To be fair, Christie made no errors here on the scale of Mitt Romney’s gaffe-filled foreign trip in 2012 as the GOP’s presumptive nominee. Upon arriving in London, Romney immediately offended the British people and its leaders by casting doubt about the city’s readiness to host that week’s Olympic Games, provoking Mayor Boris Johnson to ridicule Romney before a rally of 60,000 people.
Still, Christie did manage to stumble into an emotional debate about vaccinations that was flaring back in the United States amid an outbreak of measles. At an impromptu news conference on Monday, Christie bumbled through his answers to questions about immunizations. He said that although he vaccinated his own children, parents should have “some measure of choice” on the matter.
A couple of hours later, his staff in Trenton, N.J., tried to clean up the mess with a statement saying the governor believes “there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”
Late Monday night, while Christie was asleep in London’s five-star Corinthia Hotel, the New York Times published a front-page report about his taste for luxury travel paid for by others. (His trip to London was paid for by Choose N.J., a group financed by companies with business before the state with the mission of recruiting foreign businesses to invest in New Jersey.)
Christie’s staff members did not give a reason for canceling the governor’s media availabilities on Tuesday, but it seems likely that they wanted to avoid fueling both negative story lines.
Christie had hoped the final day of his overseas trip would present him as a compassionate, worldly politician. He and his wife, Mary Pat, visited Hope House, a charity that helps women with drug addiction, and toured the historic Globe Theatre, where they watched Rutgers University exchange students perform a rehearsal of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
Christie applauded the young actors and actresses, who performed on the open-air stage wearing winter coats to shield them from London’s famously wet, raw cold. “It really felt like you were talking to us,” Mary Pat told them.
Earlier in the day, at Hope House, a charity sponsored by the royal family, Christie visited with women staying at the facility to be nursed back to health. As he spoke movingly about destigmatizing drug addiction, Christie issued a familiar call to fellow Republicans back home.
“When I talk to folks in my party at home about them being pro-life, I say, ‘Look, you know it’s easy to be pro-life when you’re in the womb,’ ” Christie said. But, he added, “if you’re going to be pro-life, tell me you’re pro-life for the kid who’s lying on the floor of a jail cell basement addicted to drugs.”
The remarks showed that, even in a foreign land, Christie’s mind seemed focused on his pre-campaign positioning at home.