WASHINGTON -- Likely presidential hopeful Jeb Bush will make a trip to Germany, Poland and Estonia in early June, his camp confirmed. He joins a long list of past and present presidential candidates who have traveled abroad during the campaign season to bolster their foreign relations credentials and demonstrate their ability to be seen as a credible head of state.
While in Germany, Bush will address the CDU Economic Council. In all three countries, he plans to meet with policy experts, business leaders and government officials, according to his team. Bush isn’t unfamiliar with traveling abroad. He went on trade missions while governor of Florida and has traveled extensively after. Since leaving office in 2007, he has made 89 foreign trips to 29 countries on six continents.
Foreign policy is likely to be a much-debated topic in the GOP primary, as ISIS and Iran become leading topics in the news. The Republican primary field is light on foreign policy credentials. Only Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have dealt with international issues as a result of their jobs -- both serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But both are relative newcomers to the Senate and haven’t built long résumés. And all of the Republican candidates will be trying to best the Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spent four years as the nation’s top diplomat.
For Bush, trying to prove that he is the strongest option to deal with foreign policy will be one of his biggest tests on the campaign trail. His challenge is twofold. Serving as a governor gave him limited exposure to foreign policy issues -- even if the location of Florida does provide some experience with Cuban relations. But he also must find a way to distinguish himself from his former president brother, especially since public opinion remains negative on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He delivered a speech in February on foreign policy that included several flubs -- like confusing Iraq and Iran -- and some cringeworthy off-script lines, like when he said he “forced” himself to visit Asia four times a year.
Recent trips by Republican hopefuls haven’t gone as well as planned. The London visit in February of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was panned as a disaster that highlighted structural problems in his campaign. He found himself responding to criticism when he argued, in the wake of a measles outbreak in California, that parents should be able to opt out of vaccines for their children. He was criticized for breaking protocol when he criticized President Barack Obama while on foreign soil.
A trip to London in February didn’t go much better for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another 2016 hopeful who made the trip across the pond. Asked whether he believed in evolution, he refused to answer, prompting outrage that he was trying to appeal to anti-science voters.
And proving that London might be the cursed trip location for Republicans, in 2012 Mitt Romney committed one of his famous gaffes, criticizing the progress of the Olympics while there, which was seen as an insult to the nation’s closest ally. Maybe that’s why Bush is avoiding England on his trip this year.