Jeb Bush Facing Crucial Two-Week Stretch

He will visit Germany, Poland, and Estonia next week before campaigning in Florida, Iowa, and New Hampshire.

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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and possible Republican presidential candidate speaks to the media after addressing the Rick Scott's Economic Growth Summit held at the Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center on June 2, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Jeb Bush returns next week from Estonia, the tiny, technologically advanced country that shares a border with Russia, he’ll have about 48 hours to shake off the jet lag before a June 15 rally in Miami, where he formally announces his decision to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

That will be the midpoint of a crucial two weeks in which Bush will first try to establish his foreign policy credentials, and then introduce himself to voters. The week before his campaign launch, the former Florida governor travels to Germany, Poland and Estonia; the week after, he will be stumping in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

In case there's any doubt what Bush will be announcing later this month, his spokeswoman Kristy Campbell offered this Thursday: "Governor Bush is thankful for the support and encouragement he's received from so many Americans, and is excited to announce his decision." 

Bush's "decision" will come just two days after Hillary Clinton holds her much-ballyhooed first campaign rally in New York City. But if there were any concerns about sharing the spotlight with the other political dynasty in the race—or about the quick transition from Europe to a campaign announcement at Miami Dade College’s Theodore Gibson Health Center (a complex that includes a 3,200-seat gymnasium)—they may have been overridden by other scheduling issues.

The fact is, Bush has waited so long to make it official that he's running into a bit of a calendar crunch: The last week of June is expected to bring highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare and gay marriage, both decisions that have the potential to dominate the political news cycle and force candidates off message as they respond. Then comes the long Independence Day holiday weekend and the start of family vacation season. And then, the first Republican presidential debate in Cleveland on August 6. To have any chance of getting a ticket to be on stage, a candidate has to be officially in the race.

Jeb Bush and Juergen Ruettgers, then the minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, have a drink after inaugurating the Medica 2005 trade show in Duesseldorf, Germany.
Jeb Bush and Juergen Ruettgers, then the minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, have a drink after inaugurating the Medica 2005 trade show in Duesseldorf, Germany.
Photographer: Volker Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

Before Bush becomes the 11th major Republican candidate in the race, he’ll have a chance to polish his foreign-policy résumé with a week in Berlin, Warsaw and Tallinn, Estonia. It’s the kind of opportunity that some of his potential Republican rivals haven’t been able to seize, especially the governors among them.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has curiously claimed that President Reagan’s firing of air-traffic controllers who went on strike in 1981 was the most important foreign policy event of the past five decades (and wrongly said the move influenced U.S.-Russian relations).

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to answer questions about foreign policy issues while traveling to England in February. Asked by a Washington Post reporter during the trip about the terrorist threat from Islamic State, Christie said, “Is there something you don’t understand about ‘no questions’?”

Foreign policy prompted Bush’s one major gaffe in the seven months since he served notice in December that he was serious about running for president.

In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on May 9, Bush said he’d have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq even knowing the intelligence was faulty. Bush struggled for the next week to give a clear answer, finally saying on May 14 that he “would not have engaged” in Iraq, knowing what he knows now.

“That’s one that shook a lot of people,” a Bush fundraiser who requested anonymity to speak about private conversations told Bloomberg. “That’s a question you know was coming. It should have been a slam dunk and gone, and it didn’t happen that way. But even the most professional of these guys stumble from time to time.”

Bush has also incorrectly claimed that the Islamic state didn’t exist when his brother, George W. Bush, was president, and that al-Qaeda had been wiped out.

But expectations for Bush should be high.

A fluent Spanish speaker who lived in Venezuela before entering politics, Bush led trade and advocacy missions to at least 18 countries as governor, including Peru and Israel, as well as a six-day trip in 2005 that included stops in Dusseldorf and Munich, two of Germany’s largest cities.

"The Fathers of German Unity" monument in Berlin.
"The Fathers of German Unity" monument in Berlin.
Photographer: dnkbdotcom (Flickr)

As a former senior advisor to London-based Barclays PLC, Bush says he traveled overseas 89 times to 29 countries in the eight years after leaving office. Last year, Bush started an investment fund with backing from a Chinese conglomerate. He has said he had been traveling about four times a year to China, where his father, George H.W. Bush, served as U.S. ambassador before being elected the nation's 41st president.

"The Bush kids have had a chance to have a front-row seat in history,” Bush said at a Republican National Committee rally during his father’s 1992 re-election bid. “We’ve seen the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, the hammer and the sickle going down from the Kremlin on Christmas Day just a few years ago. We’ve seen so many incredible things happen.”

In Berlin, Bush will participate in a question-and-answer session during an economic conference on June 9, where he'll have a prime speaking slot sandwiched between Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel supports the nuclear negotiations with Iran that Bush opposes, but Bush’s father remains very popular in the country because of the role he took promoting German reunification while he was in the White House. Outside the former president's library in College Station, Texas is a statue of horses leaping over pieces from the Berlin Wall, a Cold War relic that came down during his term in the White House. Germany unveiled its own monument in Berlin in 2010, known as the "Fathers of German Unity," that includes bronze busts of Bush, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

That legacy may help Bush counter the one left by his brother. The nation's 43rd president remains generally disliked in Europe because of his aggressive foreign policy and unpopular war in Iraq, said Alexander Privitera, a senior fellow at at the Johns Hopkins American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

While Europeans are "going to be looking for signs of whether he's similar to his brother," Privitera predicted that “there won’t be thousands protesting against Jeb Bush. A lot of people will associate him with memories that are overcharged with emotions." 

A woman protests the visit of then-U.S. President George W. Bush in Berlin in 2002.
A woman protests the visit of then-U.S. President George W. Bush in Berlin in 2002.
Photographer: Tobias Seeliger

In Poland, Bush will participate in a roundtable with the Polish-American Freedom Foundation, a pro-democracy, free-market group, and meet with senior members of the Polish government about efforts to support Ukraine.

In Estonia, where the Internet phone service Skype was born and where residents can vote and pay their taxes online, Bush will participate in a roundtable discussion about transatlantic security with the International Center for Defense and Security, a group focused on cyber attacks, social cohesion and energy policy in the Baltic-Nordic region. Bush will also tour NATO’s Cyber Defence Center of Excellence, and meet Estonians from the e-Estonia Showroom, a briefing center that highlights the country's digital successes.

Bush called Estonia “this really cool, tiny country” during a speech in Florida on Wednesday. He held up the Baltic nation, population 1.3 million, as an example of a relatively simple tax code.

“You can fill out your tax return in Estonia online in five minutes,” Bush said. “That should be a worthy aspiration for a great nation.”

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