Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump went against the conventional wisdom of the Republican Party again this weekend when he issued scathing criticism of the way former President George W. Bush handled 9/11. But many conservatives made clear this week that they weren’t on board with Trump’s latest broadside.
“The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign. Remember that,” Trump told rival Jeb Bush at Saturday’s GOP debate. “That’s not keeping us safe.”
Trump showed he was aware of 9/11’s currency within the party when he invoked the terror attacks in a previous debate to defend himself against rival Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) “New York values” diss. Since his dour take on Bush’s handling of 9/11—which the debate audience actually booed him for—contrasted so sharply with party orthodoxy, many prominent Republicans and conservative commentators vehemently pushed back.
The real estate mogul had terse words Wednesday on Fox News for those who were critical of his thoughts about Bush. When the hosts of “Fox & Friends” played a clip of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) saying Trump was “absolutely wrong” about Bush, the real estate mogul said he didn’t care about Giuliani’s comments.
“The fact is he got a free pass because after the World Trade Center came down, we didn’t have an attack,” Trump said. “But the World Trade Center was the single biggest attack in the history of our country—bigger than Pearl Harbor because it was an attack on civilians.”
Host Brian Kilmeade repeatedly defended Bush, pressing Trump to give examples of how the former President could’ve prevented the attack.
“How is he supposed to find random people throughout the country, nine months into the job,” Kilmeade asked, “that are going to be doing something we couldn’t even possibly imagine, that the CIA didn’t anticipate, nor did anyone specifically brief him on?”
Trump responded that there was “tremendous disorganization” at the top of the Bush administration. He went on called the Iraq War a “disaster” and one of the “worst decisions ever made in this country’s history” before host Steve Doocy changed the topic of their discussion to immigration.
Watch Trump’s comments:
Conservative radio host Mark Levin said Monday on his program that Trump’s criticisms of Bush made him sound like a “radical kook.”
“I know too many Gold Star families who lost sons over there to hear this 9/11 truther crap, which is pretty close to it. Pretty damn close to it,” Levin said. “If George Bush went to war in Iraq and was lying about weapons of mass destruction there could not be a worse thing a president of the United States could do, or human being for that matter. And there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And he was not responsible for 9/11.”
Listen to Levin:
Likewise, the conservative website RedState said that Trump went “full radical left winger” at the debate and had borrowed “leftist talking points” to criticize Bush.
Kevin Madden, a GOP strategist and former spokesman for Mitt Romney, told the Los Angeles Times that Trump’s views on 9/11 and the Iraq War were “outside the mainstream of Republican thought.”
“His views in that debate were more associate with Code Pink and the liberal left and that might give people pause, rather than reinforce what they liked about some of his debate performances,” Madden told the newspaper.
Glenn McCall, who represents South Carolina on the Republican National Committee, seemed to suggest to Politico that Trump’s 9/11 comments wouldn’t play well in the South Carolina primary.
“I think most South Carolinians understand what President Bush did to protect our country and know that 9/11 was no fault of his, and they appreciate what he did over those eight years to respond and keep us safe,” McCall was quoted as saying.
Ed Rollins, a former campaign manager for Ronald Reagan and a Fox News contributor also questioned Wednesday Trump’s ability to maintain his lead in South Carolina.
“My sense is you can’t get away with the kinds of things Trump did last week without erosion of support,” Rollins said. “And we may see that.”
Despite the hemming and hawing from the chattering class, if Trump’s 9/11 comments have had a detrimental effect in the Palmetto State it hasn’t shown yet. A poll released Tuesday by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling found Trump leading in the state by a 17-point margin.