Sunday, February 14, 2016
Trump Goes Code Pink on George W. Bush
The Republican front-runner echoes Democratic talking points on 9/11, Iraq and Bin Laden.
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD February 14, 2016
It was weird that an angry Code Pink-style protester interrupted last night’s Republican presidential debate with a barrage of familiar Democratic talking points about George W. Bush—that he lied the country into a disastrous war in Iraq, failed to prevent the September 11 attacks, and even whiffed on an opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden. It was especially weird that the protestor was one Donald J. Trump, who happens to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Trump didn’t just call the Iraq war a mistake. He called it “a big fat mistake.” And he didn't call it an inadvertent mistake because of faulty intelligence. “They lied!” he thundered. “They said there were weapons of mass destruction…and they knew there were none.” Trump even groused that the war cost $5 trillion that could have helped rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, a common Democratic attack line that sounded like a canine talking point at a feline convention, especially in military-heavy South Carolina.
Maybe Trump believes there’s an untapped GOP anti-war contingent. Maybe he’s still plotting to run as an independent. Maybe he just enjoys tweaking the Bush family, since he spent much of the night mocking George’s brother Jeb as a weak, incompetent, lying loser. But Trump’s extended Bush-lied-people-died diatribe, featuring repeated scoffing at Republican Bush-kept-us-safe dogma, was the most surreal stretch of a debate that generally could have been scripted by Salvador Dali.
“I’ve got to tell you, this is just crazy, huh?” John Kasich said after a scrap over Trump’s foray into Dennis Kucinich-ism. “This is just nuts, OK? Jeez, oh man!”
Trump boasted about his opposition to the Iraq war early in the debate, claiming that he warned at the time that it would destabilize the Middle East—a claim for which there is no evidence—but his real blast into the past began, as his blasts so often do, as a non-sequitur attack on Jeb Bush, who had just made some points about Russia. “Jeb is so wrong,” Trump scoffed. “If you listen to him, that’s why we’ve been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven’t won anything.” He then began lampooning Jeb for spending $44 million to come in fifth in New Hampshire, and it looked like the back-and-forth over Iraq was over.
But then moderator John Dickerson asked Trump about an old quote where he had suggested that President Bush should have been impeached over Iraq, which gave Trump another excuse to carpet-bomb the Bush family.
“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right?” he said. “It took Jeb Bush, if you remember when he announced for president, it took him five days—it was a mistake, it wasn’t a mistake, it took him five days before his people told him what to say, and he ultimately said it was a mistake…Obviously, it was a mistake. George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty.”
When Dickerson asked Trump again whether the president should have been impeached, Jeb tried to interrupt—“I think it’s my turn, isn’t it?”—but Trump steamrolled ahead. “You call it whatever they want,” he said. “They lied.”
When Jeb finally got a word in edgewise, he basically whined about the constant bullying he has endured on the national stage. “Frankly, I could care less about the insults Donald Trump gives me. It’s blood sport for him. He enjoys it,” Bush said, accurately. “I’m glad it makes him happy. But I am sick and tired of him going after my family…While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe.”
That’s when Trump barreled back into the fray: “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign, remember that,” he said. “That’s not keeping us safe.” That sounded more like a canine talking point at a fire hydrant convention, pure heresy in a Republican context.
Then came the funniest moment of the debate, when Jeb tried to ignore the smackdown and continue his don’t-mess-with-the family soliloquy. “He has had the gall to go after my mother,” Jeb said. “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.”
“She should be running,” Trump deadpanned.
After Trump finished giving Jeb that verbal wedgie, it was left to Marco Rubio, to deliver the standard Republican defense of Jeb’s older brother. “I just want to say, on behalf of me and my family, I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore,” Rubio said. “I think you can look back in hindsight and say a few things, but he kept us safe.”
When Trump went back on the warpath, again noting that the 9/11 attacks happened on Bush’s watch—“That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.”—Rubio went back to the Republican playbook, blaming Bush’s predecessor for the attacks.
“The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance,” Rubio said.
Trump didn’t let that pass, either, raising bin Laden’s escape at Tora Bora during the Bush administration. “By the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA,” Trump said to a chorus of boos. At this point in the metaphor, the canine was basically biting the audience of whatever convention he was addressing, and probably chewing on the furniture, too.
There were no actual Democrats on stage to point out that Bush’s successor as president eventually did authorize the killing of bin Laden. But overall, the night was a Democratic dream, with the Republicans not only pushing each other to the right on issues like abortion, gay rights, immigration and foreign affairs, but ripping each other to shreds. While Jeb and the audience focused their ire on Trump, Rubio and Trump both called Ted Cruz a liar. “This guy will say anything,” Trump said.
Of course, if you had to pick a guy who will say anything, you’d probably pick the guy who spent much of a Republican debate trashing the last Republican president in a Republican state. (Honorable mention might go to Ben Carson, whose closing statement featured a fake quotation from Josef Stalin.) Throughout the Republican primary, Trump has broken all the rules of politics and defied all the conventional wisdom. No matter what he does—question the president’s birth certificate, denigrate John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam, call Mexicans rapists, skip a Fox News debate—he only seems to rise in the polls.
But those are Republican primary polls. Trump has become the dominant figure in the party, and it’s not yet clear whether that’s a good thing for the party.
“We’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this,” Kasich said last night. So far, nobody has figured out how to stop the guy who will say anything.