It’s the latest requirement for running for president – an overseas trip to bolster foreign policy bona fides. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has done it. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has too. So has former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Now it’s Jeb Bush’s turn.
Less than a week before the former Florida Governor is expected to enter the presidential race, Bush is embarking on a five-day tour of Germany, Poland and Estonia, beginning Tuesday to "better understand the concerns and views of our European allies on a range of topics," his spokesperson Allie Brandenburger said.
In Berlin, Bush will speak at the Economic Council of the Christian Democratic Party’s annual conference where he will take the stage before Germany’s President Angela Merkel. This will be the most public portion of his trip, where he will invoke his campaign motto "right to rise" in a speech.
"At a time when so many are still kept down – by poverty, tyranny, or both – we stand for the right to rise," he is expected to say according to excerpts.
Even as President Barack Obama was in Germany where the G-7 group of nations agreed to continue sanctions against Russia if the status quo remains, Bush will call out Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech for violating Ukraine's sovereignty.
“Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors. And who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered? Our alliance, our solidarity and our actions are essential if we want to preserve the fundamental principles of our international order… an order that free nations have sacrificed so much to build," Bush is expected to say.
Signaling that Russia is a focus of his trip, he’ll then head to Estonia and Poland where he will hold meetings with government and business leaders.
Bush’s trip comes as polls show that foreign policy is increasingly a priority for voters, especially among Republican voters. It ranks as a top priority for Republicans just behind the economy in national polls.
Bush arguably is one with the most experience among the Republican field in foreign policy, having made 22 visits to 89 countries according to his staff, and he governed a state that relied heavily on international trade - 40 percent of U.S. exports to Latin America pass through Florida. This will be Bush’s first trip to Estonia and Poland and an opportunity for him to look presidential and capable.
“Foreign trips are one way of sending a signal that they’re learning, seriously engaged and developing relationships,” William Galston, Brookings Institute senior fellow, said.
While an international trip isn’t likely for any candidate to receive any bump in the polls at home, however, it could hurt a candidate at home if he or she offends or doesn’t have a grasp of the issues, which has happened before.
During the 2012 election, during a trip to Great Britain before the London Olympics, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offended the British by suggesting that they won’t be ready to host the Olympics. And in this election cycle, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie became testy with reporters asking questions about foreign policy, refusing to answer and becoming annoyed at the questions. On his first trip earlier this year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker refused to answer questions from the press, resulting in the press being kept at distance during his subsequent two trips overseas.
Bush, however, is facing an additional set of challenges. The ghost of his brother, President George W. Bush, still looms with Europeans who have long opposed the Iraq war. In addition, Bush is in Europe on the heels of President Barack Obama who was in Europe for the G-7 conference talking about many of the same issues that Bush is planning to address.
Bush’s first stop is Germany, which was – and still is - adamantly opposed to the Iraq War, which his brother started and caused Bush some heartburn when he fumbled his position on the war last month. On the war’s 10th anniversary in 2013, a conservative German newspaper wrote, “It was a war that the United States basically chose for itself, and then decided upon quickly based on its military superiority.”
Galston said “a lot of the people on the other side of the Atlantic will be listening to what he has to say very carefully” about war and foreign policy as Western Europeans tend to be less hawkish than Republicans in the U.S.
Bush’s itinerary however, is not formulated to focus on Iraq but on Russia, which has been a constant challenge for President Obama and a liability for former secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Other than her role in Benghazi, Bush often criticizes Clinton's “reset” with Russia. On the campaign trail, Bush often says that Clinton was “front and center” of the reset in Russia.