Why is Christie Going to Mexico?

Matt Katz | September 2, 2014 | Katz on Christie

On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves on a three-day trade mission to Mexico. Here’s a briefing on what you need to know:

The governor says he’s there to open up economic doors between New Jersey and Mexico. He’s spending time with President Enrique Peña Nieto, whom he met last year at a conference in Idaho. He’s also speaking at events with other Mexican policy leaders, Mexican businessmen, and various New Jersey CEOs who are traveling with him. He’ll also be mixing it up with everyday Mexicans, visiting the state of Puebla outside of Mexico City where many Mexicans in New Jersey come from.

Christie advisers note the important trade relationship between New Jersey and Mexico, with exports to Mexico from New Jersey more than quadrupling since 1994, when NAFTA was signed. The state exports about $2 billion in merchandise to Mexico. And Mexico is now opening up the previously state-owned sectors of telecommunications and energy, both of which New Jersey wants to get involved in. Christie says his goal is to increase trade — and therefore jobs — for New Jersey.

Is this also about his expected run for president?

Absolutely. We will be listening in case Christie makes some other statements about hot-button issues affecting Latinos in America, particularly immigration, because everything is going to be viewed through the lens of his possible 2016 candidacy. The Mexican media will certainly press him on this issue.

Lots of potential presidential candidates are making trips abroad. You had Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who’s an opthamologist by trade, in Guatemala last month actually doing eye surgery (a documentary crew followed him around, so you may very well see those images pop up in campaign commercials). And Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also likely running for president, is headed to Japan and China on his own trade mission.

The optics of this visit are important because Christie will now be able to say to Latino audiences in 2016: “When I was in Mexico City meeting with the president…”. This will be key if he faces GOP rivals like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican-American.

What’s Christie’s current relationship with the Latino community?

Compared with congressional Republicans, who recently scuttled immigration reform measures, Christie has a strong relationship with Latinos, as evidenced by the fact that he won 51 percent of their vote in his 2013 re-election victory. This margin — which is almost twice what Mitt Romney claimed nationally when he ran for president in 2012 — is one of the strongest arguments for Christie becoming the Republican nominee for president: that he can make unprecedented inroads into the Hispanic community on behalf of the GOP. Christie also signed legislation granting lower in-state tuition to students without legal immigration status, which he was praised for, but vetoed a bill that would have made them eligible for state tuition assistance, which he was criticized for.

Will Christie go to the border, as he recently called on President Obama to do?

No. “I’m not the president, so I’m not going to the border,” Christie said last week in response to a question from a reporter. “What would I do at the border exactly, Melissa? Bring troops with me or something? This is silliness.”