- Views & Opinions
Scott Walker is becoming something of a globe-trotter as world affairs loom large in the 2016 presidential contest and attention has been drawn to his foreign policy stumbles as he considers entering the race.
He’s off this weekend on a week-long visit to Germany, France and Spain, 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.
The governor, a favorite among more conservative Republicans because of his willingness to take on labor unions in his state, has had much 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.
Among his potential rivals are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is expected to launch his candidacy Monday and make foreign policy a central theme of his campaign.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, is expected to launch her campaign Sunday.
Meanwhile, Walker faces withering criticism back home over the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin taxpayer dollars that are funding his political trips as well as for dereliction of his gubernatorial duties. The state faces a $2.2 billion budget shortfall — a situation that Walker referred to as “bankruptcy” in 2010 when he was talking about a budget gap created under Democratic control.
But the governor, a college drop-out, has decided that his lack of foreign relations awareness is more pressing than Wisconsin’s budget. He 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 fights in Wisconsin with protesters sympathetic to public unions, especially teachers’ unions, helped prepare him to combat global terrorism as president.
In another misstep, he said that his achievement of the rank of Eagle Scout was a qualification for being the next commander-in-chief.
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.”
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.
He further ducked foreign relations questions by saying: “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.
But he incorrectly interpreted the tradition. It’s 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.
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 Republican hawks.