Over the weekend the Washington Post reported on the state of Jeb Bush’s nascent president bid and painted a picture of a campaign that is in a state of panic. And for good reason. In six months Jeb has revealed himself to be a candidate who is not only hindered by his last name, but also by what has, so far anyway, been a clumsy and awkward performance on the campaign trail. Like his older brother, Jeb struggles mightily with his native tongue. He also seems to have a hopelessly disjointed approach to foreign affairs.
In desperate search of a foreign policy credential, Mr. Bush traveled to several Eastern European capitals last week, where, it was said, he impressed his interlocutors by the fact that he wasn’t his brother.
The bar for what would constitute a “successful” European sojourn for Bush was set exceedingly low. According to the New York Times Mr. Bush, after having sat through a “dense presentation” on the Ukrainian economy, asked his hosts: What is the retirement age in Ukraine?
For this rather, well, basic policy inquiry Mr. Bush was judged to be “very astute” in The Paper of Record.
In Warsaw, Mr. Bush stood shoulder to shoulder with the disgraced former foreign minister Radek Sikorski who, it has recently come to light, had denounced the Polish-American alliance as “worthless” and “bullshit.”
Sikorski, who recently stepped down as Parliamentary Speaker, is on record as complaining: “We’ll think that everything is super because we gave the Americans a blow job. Losers. Complete losers.”
Bush’s response was—to steal a phrase one hears incessantly on the Fox News Channel—to “apologize for America.” Jeb seemed to sympathize with Sikorski, implying that the fault lay with the Obama administration. Said Bush: “Maybe there’s a degree of frustration that over the last few years we’ve kind of changed course…So perhaps he was expressing frustration.”
In Europe, Bush sounded as if he were struggling to navigate between the bellicose rhetoric of his bother and the more careful pronouncements of his father; at one moment calling Russia’s Vladimir Putin “a bully” then quickly backing off, telling reporters, just to be clear “I’m not talking about being bellicose.”
Its almost as if he has a devil (Brother George) on one shoulder and a better angel of his nature (Father George) on the other. Yet given his prior pronouncements and his choice of advisers (which include, among others, the arch-neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Otto Reich) realists should not delude themselves which, angel or devil, has the candidate’s ear.
Upon his return from Europe, Bush formally announced his candidacy for President on Monday. Speaking in front of lively crowd at Miami-Dade College, Bush promised the audience, no kidding, that he will work to make the coming decades “the greatest time ever to be alive in this world.”
The hyperbole was not made more palatable by Bush’s habit of ending almost every sentence he utters with a faux “aw shucks” nod of his head, telegraphing for all the world his much-touted “humility.”
It was, for the most part, a typically milquetoast performance, and the speech itself was the usual Republican brew of “pro-family” and “pro-military” banalities interspersed with the occasional jab at both the President and the Democratic frontrunner.
The foreign policy section was an unsurprising mix of jingoism and alarmism. But to give it its due, it was mercifully brief, and can be summed up thusly: Israel good, Cuba (still) bad, and American “military inferiority” poses “the greatest risk of all.”
In any event, one can’t help but come away from Bush’s European tour and his speech on Monday wondering why it is Mr. Bush believes he should be President, and, more to point, why anyone else thinks he should be.