Although it was laughable, a rumor began making the rounds at the State Capitol after Gov. Bobby Jindal agreed to address the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
The buzz was that Jindal — an infrequent visitor to the Press Club in his hometown — was going to announce his presidential run before an audience of local reporters and businessmen dining on buffet food at a downtown casino.
Jindal, instead, announced travel plans that could very well help a bid for the White House, even though they were characterized as a job-creation trip for Louisiana.
The governor leaves Saturday on an economic development mission to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. He will be gone a week. In addition to meeting with businessmen about possible investments in Louisiana, he plans to wedge in time for foreign government officials.
The trip starts in Taipei, Taiwan, where he will spend three days. From Taipei, Jindal heads to two days of business meetings in Seoul, South Korea, before traveling to Osaka and Tokyo in Japan. The following Saturday, he will board a plane for the long flight back to the U.S.
While often criticized for the frequency of his domestic travels, the whirlwind trip offers Jindal a chance to set foot on foreign soil practically for the first time since he became governor in 2008. Other possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination have far more stamps in their passports.
“I would outline three reasons (for the trip). It is a good media event and will garner attention. It highlights economic development; and it shows him in an international context. All wins,” said Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and professor at LSU.
Asked at Press Club if the trip was an effort to bolster his foreign policy credentials for national office, Jindal said the mission has been in the works for months. He said senior executives and government officials extended invitations dozens of times.
“It’s just a great opportunity to get in front of some senior decision-makers who are thinking about investing billions of dollars, creating tens of thousands of jobs in this country. We want them to do it in Louisiana, and we think we have a great story to tell, whether it’s ethics reform, tax cuts, workforce training programs, whether it’s infrastructure. Louisiana is a great business environment, and I think that’s what we will be talking about,” the governor said.
The trip comes just a few months after The Associated Press looked at the possible presidential candidate pool for 2016 and assigned handicaps. Jindal has written a book, visited Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, raised money and maintains a social media presence. However, he was lacking in one particular area the AP counted: foreign travel.
For presidential and vice presidential wannabes, a well-used passport is a must. President Barack Obama, then just a senator, drew criticism about his lack of international political experience when he first ran for the White House. Obama quickly headed to the Middle East for a photo opportunity-laden tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. His challenger, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, visited Colombia to talk about free trade. McCain had already been to Iraq.
McCain’s running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, endured scathing criticism for boasting that she could see Russia from her house. Palin never actually said that even though it became legend because of a “Saturday Night Live” skit. What she said was Russia could be seen from an island in Alaska.
Palin stumbled over foreign policy questions, saying the Pakistani people wanted “to rid not only their country, but the world, of violent Islamic terrorists” when asked whether there was government protection for al-Qaida within the country’s borders. The U.S. later killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.
A year before he became Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan uttered the words “foreign policy” in the second sentence of a speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society. Ryan, R-Wis., used his stature as U.S. House Budget Committee chairman to warn that the U.S. needed a sustainable federal budget in order to remain a world power.
Jindal is the son of immigrants and traveled to his parents’ native India as a child. He visited India and Vietnam as a congressman. As governor, he went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for a family wedding in 2012. For the most part, though, he has stayed in the continental U.S. since he took the oath of office on the State Capitol steps on Jan. 14, 2008.
Late last year, Jindal showed that he is knowledgeable about foreign policy issues by jumping into the debate over whether Iran should be allowed to continue manufacturing centrifuges and enriching uranium. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declined to comment on the issue, saying there were people significantly better briefed than him on the issue. Jindal, on the other hand, readily chimed in. He said a stall in a nuclear agreement with Iran was a good thing.
While Christie was less informed than Jindal on Iran’s nuclear program, the New Jersey Republican has been to Israel and Jordan in the past two years. Christie viewed the West Bank by helicopter, talked to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and bunked with King Abdullah of Jordan. The trip was billed as an economic and diplomatic mission.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also made recent visits to Israel and Jordan. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been to Israel more than once. On the Democratic side, Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are seasoned world travelers.
William A. Boettcher III, an associate professor of political science in North Carolina State University’s School of Public and International Affairs, said the leading foreign policy issues at the moment include rivalries among China, Japan and South Korea. Boettcher said he doubts Jindal will hold forth on U.S. foreign policy concerns involving the Asia region during or following his trip.
“Most U.S. governors travel abroad for economic reasons, so this trip will not set him apart from other governors looking to move up. In general, foreign travel does not make one a foreign policy expert,” he said.
Pearson Cross, head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Department of Politics, Law and International Relations, said Jindal does need to overcome the perception that his experience is largely parochial if he does indeed run for president. Governors tend to deal with issues that matter to their own states rather than to a broader swath of people.
“By taking foreign trips, by meeting with foreign leaders ... he’s saying, ‘I have engaged on the international stage,’ ” Cross said. “We’ll see more of that.”