LONDON — Governor Scott Walker was so determined not to make news during his trip to London this week, he made news.
A week after Chris Christie’s disastrous trip to London, Walker was desperate to avoid the kind of slip that cost the New Jersey governor any positive headlines back home.
“I’d rather be bland than stupid or moronic,” he said.
Sadly, he may have been all three.
He was attempting to bolster his foreign policy credentials by saying nothing at all, and during a question and answer session at a foreign policy think tank he refused to be drawn on whether he believed in evolution.
“I’m going to punt on that one as well,” he said, which was met by harrumphs in the audience at a foreign policy think tank. It was suggested that pretty much any politician on earth could manage to answer that one. Walker changed tack, but only slightly: “I like the evolution of trade in Wisconsin.”
The dullness did not end there.
He said it was “polite not to respond” to questions about Britain, refused to mention the president and dodged all foreign policy questions because he was “on foreign soil.”
“It’s a bit old fashioned,” he admitted, or, more likely, it was cynical and rooted in fear of seeing the Christie coverage.
The evolution query proved a stark reminder there are some questions you simply cannot ignore, indeed Christie himself had tried to give a nuanced answer on vaccinations before stumbling.
Walker openly admitted he had been alarmed by the way the New Jersey governor’s trip was reported. “You only have to look at my colleague, my friend who came here a week or so ago and I’m not going to get into his statement but that became the focus,” he said. “That probably wasn’t the most substantive thing he was talking about here yet for whatever reason that was the lede in the news.”
If this was supposed to be a victory dance to mark his own discipline it came a little early.
Walker was following not just Christie, but Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal in attempting to buff up his foreign policy credentials ahead of 2016 with a short trip across the Atlantic.
London appears the least threatening of the global capitals; until you get here.
Unlike some of his potential challengers for the Republican nomination, Walker sought to keep a low profile.
He didn’t invite a gaggle of reporters to follow his every move. Christie was tripped up by travelling members of the national press corp. when he was asked for his views on vaccinations during a visit to a biomedical facility in Cambridge. Jindal’s own goal was to believe a spurious report, promoted by Fox News among others, that Britain was filled with “no-go” zones populated by vengeful Muslims. The claims have been thoroughly debunked by his hosts.
If the Republican pretenders have struggled to cope with the glare of an international trip, wait until they face presidential election-levels of scrutiny.
When Mitt Romney touched down in London in the summer of 2012, the time difference meant it was the middle of the night in Chicago but the lights were already on in the sixth floor of One Prudential Plaza.
A British Obama staffer was looking out over Grant Park but he was also alerting a contact at The Times of London that Romney had raised doubts about London’s readiness to host the Olympic Games in an unbroadcast version of an interview that was posted online.
The Times ran the story and #romneyshambles was born.
It had been a tiny slip, amplified by Obama’s digital rapid response team, but it was deemed so important that Obama would go on to mentioned it in his convention speech months later. Even more tellingly, Obama staff never forgot.
After the results were in, terrible phony British accents still rung out in the open plan office. “I hear there’s a guy called Mitt Romney,” they say, sounding more like Dick van Dyke than Boris Johnson. “He wants to know if we’re ready!”
And so the Governor of Wisconsin, who is unknown in the U.K. despite his controversial reputation back home, had succeeded in moving largely undetected through the city.
Until today he had largely passed his personal test, which ends on Friday.
His activities veered from the stereotypical; visiting the Churchill war rooms and a safe chat with the prime minister behind closed doors, to the fawning: a trip to the grave of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose willingness to take on the unions has been emulated in Madison. “It was an honor to pay my respects to your Iron Lady,” he said.
Keeping below the radar had made this trip relatively easy for him; tougher tests with greater scrutiny remain ahead if he is to get any closer to securing the nomination.