Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in a private dinner with members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to multiple sources, spoke at length about foreign policy. Zeke Miller’s account confirms:
According to attendees at the closed-press function for $25,000-a-year donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Bush focused on economic policy in his remarks but also impressed the pro-Israel group with his defense of muscular American foreign policy.
“He showed a lot of knowledge about foreign policy that he must have been working hard to acquire,” said Ari Fleischer, the former White House Press Secretary and a board member of the RJC, noting Bush discussed diplomatic challenges presented by countries like Ukraine, Russia and Moldova. “He was very rough on the president in terms of his handling of foreign policy, referring to the dangers of ‘American passivity.’”
This not only shows that Jeb Bush is seriously considering a run (he could have just phoned it in with a speech on education), but it also reminds us that foreign policy is going to be an essential part of the GOP primary campaign. And although I’ve been of the mind that current GOP governors have the upper hand over current GOP senators, both in concrete experience and broad-based appeal, I have some blunt advice for the GOP governors.
It is stunning that anyone in public office, let alone anyone seeking the presidency, would not have some knowledge of foreign policy and some pretty concrete ideas about what is going on in the world. When governors say “Well, I’ve been a governor so I haven’t really paid much attention,” I wonder whether they read the news. C’mon, fellas. An intern in the Capitol and a businessman in Des Moines follow the news and have general views on current events, don’t they? It’s a weird excuse to say that because the issue is beyond the four corners of their current job they don’t know enough already to speak about it. It suggests they really are clueless, they think foreign policy is some esoteric art form or they are trying to see which way the political winds are blowing. None of those reflects well on them.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got some grief for referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories,” an impolitic phrase in conservative pro-Israel circles. The rumpus was contrived primarily by one member of the RJC, but it plainly was an innocent error made in the context of relating a story about the governor’s trip to Israel, according to sources present. And he should get points for refusing to take a pass on every issue east of the Hudson River. However, it is also a reminder that accuracy and nuance are not easily acquired, and a candidate has to be knowledgeable and comfortable speaking about these issues.
In short, Jeb Bush is beginning to set the bar for fluency in foreign policy. A tourist gets credit for speaking a foreign language, however badly. But a presidential candidate had better be fluent in world events. Other governors should, if they are not already prepared, get up to speed fast. It is no excuse to be ignorant about the world, and it feeds the sentiment that the best-prepared candidates might be the ones (e.g. Jeb Bush, former congressman and now Gov. Mike Pence) who have the flattest learning curve on national security.