Candidates’ overseas tours produce little but laughs


Ann McFeatters

WASHINGTON — Of the silly traditions involving running for the White House, the going-abroad-to-show-my-foreign-policy-credentials ritual ranks worst, except for eating fried dough at county fairs.

As bemused Europeans look on, the quadrennial parade of candidates to Israel, Bonn, the Court of St. James, back to Israel, Tokyo and, sometimes, Paris is fraught with potential embarrassment and difficult moments. Beyond the photo ops of handshakes with foreign leaders, the carefully crafted, boring speeches and the pained efforts to look awed at tourist sites, the struggle to make no mistakes is the real story.

Remember Mitt Romney in London insulting his hosts by insinuating they weren’t all that prepared to host the Olympics? Nobody remembers anything else he said.

Most recently former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been in Europe recounting his father’s efforts to reunite Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. Awkwardly, Bush avoids lauding the presidency of his brother, George W. Bush, who began the widely reviled Iraq war and alienated many with his anti-terrorist measures.

Meanwhile, as Jeb Bush prepares to announce his candidacy, Europeans are puzzled by the machinations in his campaign apparatus back home as jockeying for power dominates the headlines.

With a couple dozen Republicans running, about to announce or waiting in the wings, foreigners can hardly be blamed for yawning at slews of American politicians rushing abroad to lecture them on 1) getting tougher with Vladimir Putin; 2) putting their fiscal houses in shape; 3) making the world safer for democracy; 4) considering war against Iran; 5) bombing the Islamic State; 6) going back into Iraq; 7) embracing tougher measures against Syria; 8) being more assiduous about following the U.S. lead everywhere else; 9) buying more U.S. goods and services; 10) assuring the world that Republicans are tanned, rested and ready to lead.

Hillary Clinton, frontrunner by American Pharaoh lengths for the Democratic nomination, doesn’t have to do the demeaning pilgrimage to Europe. She already visited 112 countries as secretary of state, famously traveling nearly a million miles, dutifully chronicled in her book, “Around the World in Eighty Hairstyles.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did his duty in Europe last October, getting the jump on other presidential aspirants. But he cut his trip short after two Texas hospital workers contracted Ebola and needed his skills to recover.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has made a big splash in Europe, possibly because when he ran for president in 2012 the European media widely disdained him for what they perceived as his antediluvian views. One of his America exceptionalism tenets is cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Although he won the 2012 Iowa causes, it matters not what Europeans think about him, if anything.

Ditto for Ted Cruz, the filibustering Texas senator, and Rand Paul, the filibustering, isolationist Kentucky senator.

We don’t know much about Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. We do know his parents are from Cuba and he has a lot of debt. He has self-confessed to a lack of bookkeeping skills and bought a speedboat for $80,000. That might endear him to Europeans, if not struggling middle-class Americans. But he’s expressed no affection for Europeans, insisting he’d “defy” them on big issues. Actually, a trip to Europe by Rubio might be interesting.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the only governor ever to win a gubernatorial recall election, would have trouble generating any buzz in Europe, where his state as a cheese producer has little cachet despite German roots. While he has an exploratory committee and the support of billionaires, Walker’s an enigma. He has no college degree. While he dines at the public trough, he is most known for opposing collective bargaining by public workers.

Longshots Carly Fiorina, the fired Hewlett-Packard executive, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (who bills himself as the only foreign policy expert in the GOP race), surgeon Ben Carson and former New York Gov. George Pataki are tourists foreigners could love. They have money, and none would be in much demand to make speeches.

We think all the candidates should skip the European/Middle East/Asia sideshows and compete in the National Geographic Society Geography Bee to show their creds. Dissing Putin is easy; knowing what countries Moldova flanks is harder.

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