As the latest Republican presidential debate opened Saturday, Donald Trump, in a heated exchange with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, bluntly accused George W. Bush of lying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to fool Americans into supporting the war in Iraq.
“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right?” Trump thundered when asked about his call for then-President George W. Bush to be impeached. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”
Trump added, “George Bush made the mistake. We can make mistakes, but that one was a beauty.”
Trump’s attack, at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C., came two days before George W. Bush was to emerge from years of self-imposed exile from the campaign trail to try to help his brother’s wobbly drive for the White House. In the days before the New Hampshire primary, Trump also made fun of former first lady Barbara Bush hitting the road for her son. “Wow, Jeb Bush, whose campaign is a total disaster, had to bring in mommy to take a slap at me. Not nice!” the real estate mogul tweeted.
Given a chance to respond, Jeb declared that he was “sick and tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he’s had.”
As for the real estate mogul’s attacks, “I could care less about the insults that Donald Trump gives to me. It’s bloodsport for him. He enjoys it, and I’m glad he’s happy about it,” the former governor said.
“But I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive, in my mind. While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe, and I’m proud of what he did,” Jeb continued.
The former governor denounced Trump for having “the gall to go after my mother” and declared, “My mom is the strongest woman I know.” (“She should be running,” Trump interjected.)
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida rose to the former president’s defense.
“I think you can look back in hindsight and say a couple of things, but he kept us safe,” Rubio said. “And not only did he keep us safe, but no matter what you want to say about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was in violation of U.N. resolutions, in open violation, and the world wouldn’t do anything about it, and George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do.”
Trump came roaring back. “The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.”
Rubio charged that “The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.”
But Trump got the last word in the vitriolic exchange. “By the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.”
CBS debate moderator John Dickerson enlisted Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the exchange.
“This is just nuts,” Kasich said of the back-and-forth. He noted that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had publicly accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction programs – but then the governor pivoted to say: “We should never have gone” into Iraq.
The debate over the Iraq War was notable in part because the issue has powerful echoes on the Democratic side in the 2016 race to succeed President Barack Obama. As Obama did in 2008 to great effect, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders has been pummeling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with her 2002 vote to authorize the war.
As for Trump’s opposition to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq: He came out against it in the summer of 2004.