Leonid Bershidsky writes that Jeb Bush’s speech in Berlin fell flat:

To anyone familiar with Merkel’s sedate, sensible public-speaking style, that line drips with sarcasm. Bush managed to outbore her [bold mine-DL]. In the words of Hubertus Volmer, political commentator for the N-TV station, “he clings to the written text, which he reads hastily, and is anything but charismatic — a stark contrast not only with Obama in 2008 but also with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, who spoke before him.”

And then there was the content of the speech. “The U.S. has to lead, and we have to do it in partnership with our allies,” Bush said. That’s different from Obama’s message of “building bridges,” and it’s hard to find people in today’s Germany, even among the safely conservative audience that Bush chose, who would publicly agree that America should lead and Germany should follow.

As I said yesterday, Bush’s main goal wasn’t to impress the German audience he was addressing, but it doesn’t help his cause if his performance came across as dull and grating. Bush was speaking at a CDU conference, which was probably the safest and friendliest audience he could have had in Germany, and he managed to underwhelm even them. At the same time, Bush’s Europe trip may also end up leaving many of his party’s hawkish voters cold because he is not being as alarmist and confrontational as his competitors. Dan Drezner reviewed the substance of recent Bush statements and reached this conclusion:

Compared to the rhetoric coming from the rest of the GOP field, Bush’s perfectly sober and reasonable-sounding foreign policy language will not fire up the GOP base at all. Which means that in any war of foreign policy outbidding, Jeb Bush will lose and lose big.

Bush’s predicament is that he can’t engage in a hawkish bidding war with his competitors without sounding like a copy of his brother (and on foreign policy he largely is in agreement with his brother’s views), but he has already painted himself into the corner as a hard-liner on so many issues that no one will believe him when he uses less inflammatory and combative rhetoric than the other candidates. There was once a time when his brother made semi-reasonable-sounding foreign policy statements as a candidate, but we soon discovered that this wasn’t the way he would actually handle these issues. That’s why Jeb Bush isn’t going to get the same benefit of the doubt his brother did, and it’s probably why he’ll end up satisfying very few people.

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