TALLINN, Estonia — After a long week of briefings and visits with foreign leaders, businessmen, and reporters abroad, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush comforted himself with thoughts of the brief respite that awaited him back home before Monday’s long-anticipated campaign launch.
“I need to sharpen the saw, I need to go to mass, I need to be with my grandkids,” Bush told NBC News’ Chris Jansing in a one-on-one interview after an information session with Estonian tech officials and entrepreneurs. “I just need to decompress a little bit. On Sunday, I get to do that and I’ve always found that to be important, and then Monday, just have fun — It’s going to be an exciting time. I’m really excited about this.”
One could understand if Bush felt he earned his one-day breather. After a string of visits abroad by Republican leaders marred by missteps and distractions, including former nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 and governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker in 2015, he managed to pull off a rare quiet success.
Traveling through Germany, Poland, and Estonia, and facing a steady string of questions from American and foreign reporters alike, Bush managed to stick to his message that he would strengthen ties with Europe and protect allies from Russian aggression without major incident. That’s no small feat, especially given the intense added scrutiny that came with his family’s presidential history in the region.
“I think it’s been a spectacular trip — and I love Estonia!” he told reporters as he finished up his final event in Tallinn.
The news was less encouraging back home, however, where Bush faced tough stories questioning his relative fundraising strength, his weakening position in polls, and his campaign message following his decision to replace his expected campaign manager David Kochel with Florida strategist Danny Diaz.
Bush has looked to maintain his distance from the trail of criticism following his campaign performance. Asked by Jansing where this week’s frenzy fit on his list of priorities, he replied, “It’s not on it.”
“I’ve learned to prioritize,” he continued. “My job as a candidate is to be the best possible candidate, to persuade people that the ideas I have and the leadership skills I have are the right ones for the future of this country … All the here and now stuff, thankfully there are smart people focusing on that [so] I don’t have to.”
When it comes to his role as “candidate” —a title he has carefully resisted applying to himself for months – Bush said he planned to keep things upbeat in his opening speech on Monday, which he said he has finished preparing.
“We can fix these things,” he said, when asked about his message on Monday. “We can fix the problems that people think are intractable. With leadership we can move forward again. We can be the greatest country on the face of the Earth again, I truly believe it.”