Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions from employees of Nephron Pharmaceutical Company June 29, 2015 in West Columbia, S.C.
Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty

Jeb Bush’s Swift Boat defense comes up short

Almost immediately after Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) military service, Republican officials denounced the criticism in a specific way. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” the Republican National Committee said in an official statement.
The problem, of course, is that Republicans appear to apply that principle selectively. In 2004, John Kerry faced ridiculous lies about his heroic military service, and at the time, GOP leaders saw great political value in smearing a decorated war veteran.
Take Jeb Bush, for example. In January 2005, the day before his brother’s second inaugural, the Florida governor wrote a letter to the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” ringleader, expressing his appreciation for the smear campaign. Celebrating the “Swifties,” as Jeb Bush called them, the Republican wrote to retired Col. Bud Day, “Please let them know that I am personally appreciative of their service to our nation. As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry.”
In this case, “stand up to” was apparently a euphemism for “tell lies about.”
And yet, a decade later, Bush is now disgusted by Trump’s rhetoric about John McCain’s service. Why is the former governor comfortable with ugly attacks that smeared one decorated veteran but not another? Here’s what Bush’s campaign spokesperson told CNN’s Jake Tappe yesterdayr:
“We reject the entire premise. A thank you letter to Col. Bud Day, Medal of Honor winner and Air Force Cross recipient, twice captured as a POW, is not in any way analogous to condemning Donald Trump’s slanderous attack on John McCain.”
There are a couple of problems with the response.
First, at the risk of sounding picky, American servicemen and women do not “win” Medals of Honor. We’re not talking about a contest – U.S. troops earn them and receive them. I never wore the uniform myself, but I’ve spoken to enough veterans to know that for those who served, this terminology matters. The Bush campaign ought to know better.
Second, Jeb Bush and his staffers can’t have it both ways. When it’s the Republican’s brother on the ballot, Bush thinks the smearing of a war hero is worthy of praise and gratitude. When it’s Donald Trump, leading Jeb Bush in the polls, doing the smearing, the Florida Republican is suddenly outraged.
For Team Bush, the two are not “in any way analogous.” Why not? Because the campaign says so.
The facts, however, appear to point in a very different direction.