As America’s closest ally on the global stage, the United Kingdom is a favorite destination for U.S. politicians, particularly presidential hopefuls. That’s because, in a friendly, low-risk environment, they want to establish some foreign policy bona fides as they eye the next election. London, however, has been a public relations disaster for GOP contenders recently.
Last week, N.J. Governor Chris Christie ignited a minor media firestorm when he appeared to endorse the idea that parents should be able to opt out of vaccinating their children for diseases such as the measles. (Christie’s response was actually far more nuanced than that, but a truncated version of it wound up dominating media coverage of his trip.)
In January, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was mocked by the British media after he said parts of major British cities are under de facto Sharia law and constitute “no-go” zones for British police departments. He may have read a 2011 edition of Britain’s Daily Mail, which claimed that Islamic extremists had launched a posters declaring Sharia law zones.
In 2012, GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s trip to London seemed to move from one disaster to another. He appeared to insult the entire city of London by criticizing its preparations for the Olympic Games and said he’d received a secret intelligence briefing by the head of the British Intelligence agency, MI6, widely viewed as a breach of protocol.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seemed determined to break that streak during his four-day excursion to the U.K. on a trade mission this week. Considered a strong contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, Walker scheduled little or no time with the media, limiting the potential for an inadvertent slip of the tongue.
Walker even criticized the media for how it handled Christie’s comments, focusing on the controversy and ignoring the more substantive parts of his trip.
It turns out, though, that not answering questions can cause just as many problems as giving the wrong answer. When Walker on Wednesday appeared at Chatham House, the widely respected foreign policy think tank, he surprised his audience by refusing to answer questions about foreign policy.
After delivering a speech on global economics, he said it wasn’t appropriate for an American politician to discuss U.S. policy while abroad. He also declined to answer when he was asked about British foreign policy, saying that as a guest in that country it would not be polite to opine on their policies.
Then the interviewer asked him about whether he believes in the scientific theory of evolution.
“I'm going to punt on that one as well,” he said. “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or the other.”
The media pounced. Walker got more headlines out of refusing to answer a question on evolution than anything else he said or did while in the U.K.
Given all this, it seems only fitting to conclude with some blunt advice to GOP presidential candidates, via the late great Dennis Farina (as Avi Denovitz) in the movie Snatch: Don’t go to England.
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