Ben Carson may join a legion of presidential candidates who have gone on overseas trips during the campaign cycle in a thinly veiled effort to demonstrate foreign-policy credentials.
But if history is any guide, it’s unlikely a trip will do much good.
A Carson campaign official told CBS News on Sunday that the candidate has considered taking a trip to Asia, Africa, or Australia in order to do something “eye-opening” prior to the Iowa caucus in February. At this stage, the campaign has reached out to government agencies to see what would be needed in terms of preparations and security for an overseas venture, but hasn’t gone any further.
(Australia was likely in the mix because Carson says he spent time working there at Charles Gairdner Hospital in 1983, according to his autobiography Gifted Hands. The Daily Beast has reached out to the hospital to confirm. Communications manager Doug Watts said the desire to go to Australia or any country is a “3” on a scale of “1-10.”)
“It’s all a bit premature and speculative at this point,” Watts told The Daily Beast. “CBS was reacting to our general fishing for information, as protocol, with respective government agencies. I will let you know if things get more serious.”
Carson’s uninformed foreign-policy comments—including the suggestion that China was involved in Syria—have likely contributed to his recent plummet in the polls. Taking a trip could serve as both a distraction, when the media cycle is dominated by erroneous claims of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and an opportunity to make it seem like Carson is trying to learn.
But trips abroad can be tricky for presidential hopefuls and in recent years hasn’t served the Republican field well.
“I’m not running for anything in the United Kingdom anytime soon,” Christie said when reporters told him that people didn’t know who he was at the time.
During that trip Christie also said that parents need to be given a “measure of choice” in response to a question about vaccinating children when asked about the measles outbreak in the United States at the time. That response sent Christie into damage-control mode for days thereafter. When he came back to the states, he received even more flak for using taxpayer money—to the tune of $40,000—to fund his lavish travel.
A spokesman for Christie’s campaign did not respond to The Daily Beast when asked if he has more foreign travel plans during this campaign cycle.
London was similarly unkind this year to former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. During a January trip, Jindal referred to Muslim-dominated areas as “no go zones,” prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to label him “a complete idiot.” Jindal, who is no longer running for president, later doubled down on the remarks in an interview with CNN.
Scott Walker, another governor formerly known as presidential candidate, also ventured to London, and spoke about cheese instead of foreign policy. “We think we consistently have some of the best cheese in the world,” Walker said proudly of his home state of Wisconsin. He refused to answer a number of questions including whether he believed in evolution. Walker claimed that it was “not the polite thing” to address policy in someone else’s country.
In 2012, Mitt Romney also fell prey to the scourge of London. He accidentally disclosed a meeting with MI6 and said he saw “a few things that were disconcerting” about the security preparations for the London Olympics.
He then headed to Israel, where he told a group of Jewish donors in Israel that their country’s economic success over neighboring Palestine could be somewhat attributed to their culture.
These trips, albeit often disastrous, prove to be fodder for touting credentials in various debates and candidate rhetoric. Carly Fiorina has used her business travel history to compare herself to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, propping up her experience with lines like, “I sat across the table from Vladimir Putin.” Her campaign did not respond to The Daily Beast when asked if she would plan a foreign trip during the election cycle.
If anyone needs to boost their foreign policy credentials right now, it’s Carson, who has recently taken to accusing the media of misrepresenting his abilities. “What I would say is actually listen to my policies,” Carson told me in New Hampshire on Friday. “Actually listen to my solutions. You will find that they compare favorably with anybody, but don’t listen to the narratives that try to say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t know anything.’”
And supposedly going to Australia would prove Carson knows something.