MADISON, Wis. (AP) — It ought to be the friendliest of soil for White House hopefuls looking to pad the resume with a little foreign policy experience: a trip to the United Kingdom.
So far, however, the trips to England have been anything but merry for several prospective GOP candidates.
The latest to emerge scathed from a trip across the Atlantic is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who capped an appearance at the prestigious Chatham House think tank on Wednesday by avoiding a question about whether he believes in the theory of evolution.
"I'm going to punt on that one, as well," Walker said at the end of a Q&A during which he also declined to answer questions about foreign policy. "That's a question a politician shouldn't be involved in one way or the other. So I'm going to leave that up to you."
Walker's appearance came a week after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's trip to the U.K. was driven off course by a question about childhood vaccinations. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal came in for criticism during his visit abroad when he said Muslims have established autonomous "no-go zone" neighborhoods in some Western European cities where they govern by a harsh version of Islamic law — a notion that had drawn ridicule from British Prime Minister David Cameron, among others.
Quipped Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee: "Do any other GOP presidential candidates want to go to London? If so, let us know. The DNC is more than happy to pick up your travel costs."
The experiences speak to the dangers faced by candidates who are new to the intense scrutiny of a presidential campaign in the era of social media and often-instant broadcast or publication of their every word, said South Carolina-based Republican strategist Hogan Gidley, who advised the past presidential campaigns of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"The questions you get in England can sidetrack a campaign," Gidley said. "Under those bright lights and on that big stage, it can magnify every answer in a lot of ways candidates aren't ready for."
Walker appeared to take some lessons from Christie's widely panned trip, which ended with his staff canceling three meetings planned with reporters. Walker limited his agenda to mostly private meetings with government officials, business executives and ex-pats from Wisconsin. His only public event was Wednesday's 15-minute speech, which he followed with 45 minutes of questions and answers.
The query about evolution, posed by the event's moderator, was the last one of the day.
"I'm here to talk about trade and not pontificate on other issues," said Walker, who then tried to make a joke. "I love the evolution of trade in Wisconsin and I'd like to see an even bigger evolution as well."
Walker's office later issued a clarifying statement saying that he believed faith and science were compatible, but it didn't say if he believes in evolution. He said Thursday in a conference call with reporters "it obviously isn't an important part of being governor."
During the Q&A, Walker was equally mum when asked whether Britain could be doing more in the fight against Islamic State militants: "I should get my iPod out and just hit the same answer each time. Again, it's one of those that I've got an opinion on, and I'll be certainly happy to answer that back when I'm stateside. But probably being old-fashioned and having respect for the president, I just don't think you talk about foreign policy when you're on foreign soil."
Walker said Thursday he had made it clear to organizers of the event at Chatham House — which describes itself as "an international affairs think tank" — that he was going to talk about trade issues, not foreign policy or presidential politics.
But Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012, said Walker would have faced another kind of backlash had he offered a critique of President Barack Obama.
"If you were to criticize the president, he would have got crucified," he said.
And the headlines from a single day's missteps are on balance worth the risks, said Lanhee Chen, a policy adviser to Romney's 2012 campaign. The trips, he said, are still beneficial in the long run of a presidential campaign.
"These trips afford opportunities to interact with foreign leaders and to get to know them a little bit and for them to get to know these folks in a way they wouldn't otherwise," he said. "On balance, I think it's still a good thing to do."
Colvin reported from Trenton, New Jersey.
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