5 takeaways from Chris Christie's Mexico trip

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

MEXICO CITY (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's trade mission to Mexico this week was officially billed as an opportunity to foster new business relationships between the United States' southern neighbor and his state. But it also gave the potential 2016 presidential contender an opportunity to bolster his foreign policy credentials. While many watched to see how the famously brash Republican would present himself on an international platform, the trip arguably left open more questions than it answered. Here's what we learned from Christie's travels:

— He won't talk about immigration.

Immigration is undoubtedly the most pressing issue between Mexico and the United States, but Christie showed no interest in weighing in.

"I know you guys are begging to have me focus on immigration. And let me put you to rest: I'm not going to," he told reporters on Thursday, saying he would begin to sketch out his position only when — and if — he decides to pursue the Republican presidential nomination.

Still, the issue trailed him wherever he went, including to the city of Puebla, where a Spanish-language reporter asked Christie what should be done about the flow of Central American children across the border. Christie repeated his stance that Americans are "a compassionate people" who want to protect the children, but also live in a land of laws.

Despite the silence, Christie played plenty to the immigrants back home, working to build his appeal with Latino voters. An estimated 40 percent of New Jersey's Mexican-Americans have roots in Puebla.

—He's got stamina.

Christie's Mexico schedule was jam-packed with 22 meetings and events crunched into three days, according to an aide. That included meetings with five Cabinet members, President Enrique Pena Nieto and trip out of town — all while contending with Mexico City's horrendous traffic. He also made a stop at a local taco joint and toured the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most revered Roman Catholic shrines in the Americas, late Thursday night.

Christie bragged about the pace during an event. "I have to tell you that I've felt really good during the last three days and probably better than most of my younger staff," he said, glancing over at some of their tired faces. "Yeah, definitely better than most of my younger staff."

Christie explained that he's not a fan of downtime when he leaves the state. "I like to do as much of it as I possibly can in as short a period as I can and then get back home, not just to do my job but to see my family," he said.

—He knows how to dial it down.

Christie seemed to "leave his Jersey in Jersey," as one reporter put it. The famously brash governor struck a more humble tone than usual during his trip, delivering data-heavy speeches and repeatedly stressing that he was there to listen and learn from those he met.

Asked about the shift, Christie acknowledged the more subtle tone: "In private, I have a little more of than I do in public. But you know, you're getting to know people, so you don't want to go too overboard, right?"

— He's still figuring out how to position himself.

If those back home wanted to learn more about Christie's foreign policy views, they didn't learn much from this trip. Christie delivered a policy speech and several other remarks but kept his focus on North America, underscoring the benefits of prioritizing relationships with the country's neighbors. He also talked about building a "North American energy renaissance" by investing in infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline and doing away with regulation.

— The Hillary factor.

The prospect of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democrats' presidential nominee has already put significant pressure on the potential GOP field to study up on foreign policy so they're prepared to face the former secretary of state in debates. But Christie got an early taste of Clinton's power this week when news broke that she, too, would be making a trip to Mexico, overlapping with his. The former senator and first lady on Friday swooped into town on behalf of the Clinton Foundation to meet with billionaire Carlos Slim, telling reporters her background gives her a "unique vantage point" for the White House should she run in 2016.

Christie was several hours away in the city of Puebla watching school children perform in his honor when Clinton spoke, and he played coy when asked about her comment.

"Good for her," he said with a smile.