On VP List, Pawlenty & Portman Boast Foreign Policy Heft

On VP List, Pawlenty & Portman Boast Foreign Policy Heft

By Erin McPike - July 18, 2012

With speculation mounting that Mitt Romney could choose a running mate before he goes abroad next week on a trip designed to boost his foreign policy chops, there are tangential considerations about the apparent shortlist of contenders, believed to have narrowed to Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal.

As a longtime businessman, Romney doesn’t have the kind of foreign policy credentials that Arizona Sen. John McCain did when he ran for president in 2008. Instead, his experience in that arena is more closely aligned with that of George W. Bush, who, like Romney, was a businessman-turned-governor. He selected Dick Cheney, who had served as defense secretary during Bush’s father’s administration. McCain, on the other hand, was a veteran who didn’t need a running mate to match his background.

One line of thinking in GOP circles is that should Romney choose Portman, the party would have a ticket that could govern best in all fronts, because the Ohio senator has the longest foreign policy resume of the bunch. Not to be outdone, however, Tim Pawlenty spent eight years as the commander-in-chief of the Minnesota National Guard in his capacity as governor. He also has some experience in enforcing Iran sanctions, which gives him limited foreign policy qualifications. (Portman and Pawlenty probably outshine the candidate in this regard.)

It’s Jindal, the second-term governor of Louisiana, who seems to fall short in this category. As governor, he has not taken a single international trip, including trade missions. He and Romney are like-minded in this way, because as governor of Massachusetts the latter also eschewed trade missions, viewing them as boondoggles. Instead, he leveraged the attractiveness of Boston as a port city to international visitors, an approach Jindal has used with New Orleans.

By contrast, Pawlenty took seven trade missions in his two terms as governor, and Portman traveled extensively overseas as the United States trade representative.

Indeed, the official international travel taken by the trio of possible vice presidents underscores some of their distinctions. Here’s a brief look:


Atop the list for international heft is Portman, who voted for NAFTA as a congressman in 1993 and later became the only contender who has negotiated on behalf of the United States as the country’s trade representative under George W. Bush.

In that role, he visited Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, France, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

He negotiated trade agreements with roughly 30 countries.

While serving as White House counsel under George H.W. Bush, he visited China, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As a congressman from 1993 till 2005, Portman traveled to Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Mexico.

Prior to running for the Senate, he joined a law firm in Cincinnati that had an international practice so he could continue focusing on trade issues. 

Now, in the Senate, he serves on two of the relevant committees for foreign policy and national security, including Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Since coming to the upper chamber, he has visited Afghanistan twice, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. He recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Unlike Romney, Pawlenty dove into trade missions to attract business to his state, and he embarked on a trade mission each year of his governorship with the exception of 2006, when he was running for re-election.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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