The legacy of George W. Bush came up for review Saturday during a boisterous back and forth that grew personal fast, with Jeb Bush jumping to his brother’s defense after Donald Trump called the war in Iraq a “big fat mistake” based on faulty premises.
“I tell you they lied,” Trump said, charging that the Bush administration invaded Iraq without evidence of weapons of mass destruction – its very rationale for the war. “They knew there were none,” Trump said.
The remarks hit a raw nerve for Jeb Bush, who has invited his older brother on the campaign trail Monday in South Carolina, six days before Republican voters head to the polls in the state’s GOP primary.
“While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe,” Bush said.
“The World Trade Center came down when your brother was president. Remember that,” Trump said.
The back and forth on the debate stage in Greenville, South Carolina was an usually raw expression of consternation about the Bush administration’s legacy.
Other candidates chimed in.
John Kasich, fresh off a strong second-place finish in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, defended the Bush administration’s decision to go into Iraq, saying administration officials believed there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction, even though none later turned up.
But, Kasich offered a harsh assessment of the outcome in Iraq. “The fact is we got ourselves in the middle of a civil war,” Kasich said. Kasich added that he believes the United States should only go to war when it’s in the country’s direct interest.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who is looking to recover after a weak showing in New Hampshire and a stumbling debate performance in that state one week ago, tied himself more firmly to the Bush legacy.
“I just want to say I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore,” Rubio said. On the subject of the war in Iraq, Rubio said that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been in violation of UN resolutions.
Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon, said he was not “particularly in favor” of the Iraq war. But, Carson credited the Bush administration with calming violence in that country as a result of its troop surge late in the war, and blamed the Obama adminstration for pulling troops out of the country.
But for Donald Trump, the blame for Iraq appeared to be more clear cut.
Bush called Trump’s style of winning points on the debate stage a “bloodsport,” but Trump asserted that this is personal for him, too.
“I lost hundreds of friends,” Trump said of 9/11.