Saturday night’s Republican debate in South Carolina featured a number of bombastic exchanges, but perhaps none were more incendiary that the throwdown between GOP heavyweights Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. In the heat of a discussion regarding the September 11 attacks and their aftermath, Trump reiterated his oft-stated position that Jeb’s brother, former President George W. Bush, could have done more to prevent the infamous terror attacks.
“The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that. That’s not keeping us safe,” Donald Trump shouted during the debate. In earlier comments transcribed by Politico, Trump bluntly asserted that the Bush Administration lied about weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for the Iraq war. He also referred to the aforementioned conflict as “a big fat mistake,” prompting objections from some in the audience.
Indeed, Donald Trump’s political line regarding the War on Terror is somewhat problematic to establishment Republicans, who are typically reluctant to find fault with the Bush Administration’s handling of the matter. Perhaps sensing that such sentiments extend to Republican voters, the GOP frontrunner dialed down his criticism of George W. Bush during an appearance on the CBS show Face the Nation Sunday Morning.
“I am not blaming [President Bush], although…the CIA said there was a lot of information that something like that was going to happen. I’m not blaming anybody. It’s a tragedy.”
But although Donald Trump re-framed his comments by removing the element of responsibility from the discussion, he also reiterated his issues with President Bush just moments later.
“Now, could he have done something about it? His CIA knew about things happening… but when Jeb gets up and says, we were safe under his brother, we weren’t safe.”
For his part, Jeb Bush pushed back against Trump’s anti-Bush remarks in a big way while the two men were on stage Saturday night, telling the audience that politics is a “blood sport” for the real estate mogul. Bush said he was “sick and tired” of Trump’s repeated attacks on his family, taking particular issue with Donald Trump’s jokes about matriarch Barbara Bush.
“He has had the gall to go after my mother,” Jeb Bush said during the debate. “I won the lottery when I was born 63 years ago, looked up, and saw my mom. My mom is the strongest woman I know.”
Conservative outlet Red State noted Donald Trump’s courting of the 9/11 “Truther” movement in late 2015, likening the GOP frontrunner’s previous comments about the terrorist attack to the work of filmmaker Michael Moore and calling Trump’s positions “insane” and “absurd.” It’s worth noting that Donald Trump had an epic feud with Red State Editor-In-Chief Erick Erickson last year, due largely in part to Trump’s comments regarding Fox News personality Megyn Kelly.
Donald Trump’s calculated and sustained negative campaigning against Jeb Bush, coupled with the blustery billionaire’s star power has almost completely removed the former Florida governor from contention for the Republican nomination, at least with regard to early primary contests. Branded as “low energy” by Trump, Jeb has finished in the lower tiers in Iowa and New Hampshire and current polling data show that he is not likely to have strong showings in South Carolina and Nevada. Once the odds on favorite for a November showdown with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Bush has lost considerable standing with Republican voters, relegated to the sidelines as Donald Trump seemingly runs away with the race.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]