It was surprising to see the intensity with which Donald Trump criticized former President George W. Bush during last night’s GOP debate.
Strategically speaking, it wasn’t a bad ploy to criticize the former president over the Iraq War or the appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice. An argument could be made that these two criticisms might play political dividends. After all, many Republicans believe, in retrospect, that the Iraq War wasn’t worth the cost in blood, treasure, and geopolitical position. And conservatives are frustrated that Chief Justice Roberts passed on two opportunities to drive a stake in the heart of Obamacare.
What surprised was Trump’s accusation that George W. Bush lied about the existence of WMDs as a pretense to war, and that the attack on 9-11 was somehow the fault of the former president. These are accusations of the Left that conservatives have spent considerable energy beating back. And they were not only leveled by the Republican front runner, but in a state where the former president enjoys considerable popularity.
Trump seemed to begin walking the accusations back on Sunday morning. This indicates a realization that he overstepped. But why did he overstep? Perhaps Trump is concerned that the former president’s popularity in South Carolina will benefit Jeb Bush and he got carried away with his attempt to kneecap Jeb by attacking his brother. It’s hard to know for certain, but Trump does seem to possess a large degree of concern about Jeb, despite his lower position in the polls.
It’s become routine to believe that Trump has finally said or done something to undermine his support. One would think that echoing the discredited accusations of the Left about a former Republican President might be what finally causes the ship of Trump to take on water. But who knows, as pundits have proven themselves wrong time and time again when predicting the demise of the real estate barron.
One thing is for certain. Trump will have once again proved his detractors wrong if he overcomes any blowback following his criticism of George W. Bush. More importantly, he may provide the GOP a service by illustrating just how wide the chasm is between party leaders and the GOP base.