For Jeb Bush in Europe it’s all in the family | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.06.2015
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For Jeb Bush in Europe it’s all in the family

A trip to Europe, a fixture for US presidential hopefuls wanting to show their foreign policy chops, can help boost or bust a campaign. The leading Republican Jeb Bush faces a particular tricky tightrope act this week.

Jeb Bush better come to Europe prepared. After bumbling a question at home recently about whether he would have invaded Iraq like his older brother did, it's safe to assume his advisors briefed the former Florida governor extensively on what to expect in Europe to avoid a similar public relations debacle.

They probably told him that the war in Iraq was always a lot more unpopular in Europe than in the US and that in order to have a civil conversation it is better not invoke the name George W. Bush in the presence of Europeans.

That is particularly true for Jeb Bush's first destination - Germany. In 2008, George W. Bush's last year in office, only 14 percent of Germans said they had some or a lot of confidence in him as president. 85 percent told Pew they had not much or no confidence.

Father is trump

Jeb Bush, however, who will officially announce his run next week, has a trump card he can play to try banish the shadow his brother could cast over his stint in Germany - his father.

George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush und Jeb Bush

Two Bush presidents, and one candidate

"Germany has special symbolic meaning for Jeb Bush, given that his father was instrumental in German unification," James Davis, director of the political science department at the University of St. Gallen, told DW via email. President George H. W. Bush was pivotal in bringing about German unification, particularly as other major Western allies, Britain and France, were initially deeply skeptical about the project.

The elder Bush's historic role has been highlighted again recently in the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall. Since this time, "Germany is linked positively to his father, who was president when the Wall came down," Mark Hallerberg, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, told DW via email.

But Jeb Bush did not decide to visit Berlin out of family nostalgia.

Powerhouse Germany

"Germany is important because it is the best symbol of a US foreign policy success and because it is the political and economic powerhouse of Europe," noted Davis.

While in Berlin, Bush on Tuesday will give a speech and answer questions at a high-profile CDU economic conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Google chairman Eric Schmidt are also scheduled to appear.

In his remarks, Bush will certainly make the case for improved transatlantic relations which have suffered since the Snowden disclosures some two years ago. During his visit to the German capital Bush is also slated to meet with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an indication of the importance of the visit for Berlin.

Obama Rede Siegessäule Berlin Archiv 2008

Obama at the victory column in Berlin in 2008

Bush may also talk to Chancellor Merkel, however the chancellor will likely try to ensure that any meeting is in line with her general stance not to interfere in foreign campaigns. In 2008, she received then-candidate Barack Obama in the chancellery, but rejected his campaign's plan to have him speak at the iconic Brandenburg Gate.

Hawkish message

Compared to Germany, Bush's two other European destinations should be easier terrain to navigate.

First, because Poland and Estonia, part of what former Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld considered "new Europe," were never as staunchly opposed to the Iraq war and George W. Bush as their counterparts in so called "old Europe" to begin with. And, second Russia's recent aggressive behavior has a way to focus the mind of those countries in close proximity to Moscow. A strong message of support would therefore be highly appreciated, if not expected, from Bush in Warsaw and Tallinn.

"Bush is likely to make a hawkish case for a more robust commitment to the defense of our East European allies and perhaps the permanent stationing of US troops in the front line countries - something both Obama and Merkel have been unwilling to do," said Davis.

Avoid gaffes

USA Romney und GB Cameron in London

Rocky trip to Britain for Romney

As far as successful European trips of US presidential candidates go, Jeb Bush's role model will be Barack Obama, not his Republican colleague Mitt Romney. While Bush will certainly not replicate the ‘Obamamania' that gripped Europe, he can try to create some positive headlines and pictures for domestic consumption back home.

What he surely wants to avoid though is a series of headline-making blunders like Mitt Romney committed three years ago in London. Romney's remarks culminated in British Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly claiming that "Britain is united against Mitt Romney."

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