When Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, and he traveled to Berlin to help lay a diplomatic groundwork for the future, the Democrat was welcomed like a rock star. By some estimates, a crowd of 200,000 people attended Obama’s event in July 2008.
Seven years later, it’s another American presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who’s headed to Europe, visiting Germany, Poland, and Estonia this week. MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported overnight on the Republican’s overseas excursion.
Bush will open the trip on Tuesday in Berlin with a speech at an economic conference hosted by the ruling Christian Democratic Union. The party’s fiscal conservatism under German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also speaking at the conference, lines up with Bush’s views and the event will give him a chance to tout his vision for a “right to rise” economy.From there he’ll participate in a series of meetings, some public and some private, including a roundtable with Polish civil and business leaders in Warsaw on Thursday and a discussion of joint security concerns in Tallinn on Friday between American and Europe.
Bush is hardly the only GOP candidate making overseas trips to bolster their foreign policy bona fides in advance of national campaigns, though it seems most Republicans go to England – and the trips never turn out well.
The Florida Republican’s destinations, however, aren’t random. As BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins explained, Bush’s trip is “designed to place him in meetings and photo ops with some of the continent’s leading critics of Putin’s Russia.”
It’s also intended to illustrate Bush’s argument that President Obama has offered a “weak-kneed response to Putin’s recent aggression in Eastern Europe,” though the former governor has never articulated what he would have liked to see Obama do differently.
The broader question, though, is whether any of this is likely to have the desired effect.
The New York Times reported from Germany that Bush’s very name “summons instant unease” in the country, where his brother’s failures left him “profoundly unpopular.”
Vox’s Max Fisher, reporting from Berlin, argued that Bush’s entire strategy is a mistake.
Having Jeb Bush come to Berlin to argue on behalf of US foreign policy in Europe is a little bit like sending Edward Snowden to give a speech on NSA reform to the Republican National Committee. Bush has come up in nearly every conversation I’ve had here since arriving, and always with a warning: that skepticism of the US is already high here, that the German public’s support of tough policies toward Russia is tenuous, and that the mere sight of a Bush makes Germans want to run in the opposite direction of US foreign policy. […][C]oming to Berlin for a big speech, and putting the Bush family name on this policy, seems almost certain to backfire. What Bush may not realize is that German support for US policies toward Russia is precarious and polarized, and his voice is likely to deepen German polarization against the US and against hardline Russia policies.
Fisher added this morning, “Having Jeb Bush come to Berlin to make a big anti-Putin speech seems like a surefire way to make Germans more sympathetic to Russia.”
Watch this space.