Remember this exchange from last night's CNN/Salem Radio debate, in which Jeb Bush tried -- and largely failed in the moment -- to land a punch on Donald Trump? Allow me to jog your memory:
Here, Jeb counters Trump's oft-repeated attack that he's beholden to big donors by pointing out that as Florida's governor, he rebuffed pressure from a high-profile contributor named...Donald Trump. Bush said Trump advocated for casino gambling in the Sunshine State, and that he'd resisted the real estate mogul's push despite his political donations. In response, Trump grimaced and rolled his eyes, flatly denying that he'd sought casinos in Florida. He called Bush's statement "totally false," adding, "I promise, if I wanted it, I would've gotten it." Claim, counter-claim. I wondered publicly who was correct as this back-and-forth transpired:
Over to you, Politico:
"The one guy that had some special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views on something—that was generous and gave me money—was Donald Trump," Bush said. "He wanted casino gambling in Florida." That’s when Trump cut him off—and failed to tell the truth. “I didn't,” Trump said. But for more than 21 years, Trump did. He and his company have repeatedly been on record trying to get casino deals in one form or another in Florida. From hiring lobbyists to taking a former business partner to court, Trump’s interest in getting a piece of Florida’s gaming industry has been documented in news articles from Tallahassee to Miami. Trump’s involvement in expanding Florida gaming—an effort that regularly fails in the state Capitol due to the influence of conservative lawmakers—is well-known among state capital reporters, politicians and lobbyists alike. “Donald Trump has tried almost every year to have a casino, even before Jeb was governor,” said Danny Adkins, president of Mardi Gras Casino in Hallandale Beach. “It’s not even a secret.” The gaming industry is so cutthroat in Florida that lobbyists from different companies have almost come to blows protecting their turf and trying to get an edge in Tallahassee. But when Trump said during the debate that he didn’t want gambling, Adkins said the old foes started texting each other in disbelief. “Trust me: everyone is an agreement about this,” Adkins told POLITICO Wednesday night, laughing. “And we don’t really agree on anything else.”
Those who would know best, and who apparently hate each other's guts, are unanimously incredulous over Trump's outright lie. Oh, and it appears as though Jeb's version of events checks out, too:
Trump’s biggest shot at getting at getting a casino deal was in 1998, when Bush was mounting his first successful campaign for governor and the developer was in talks with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which wanted Las Vegas-style casinos. But they weren’t legal at the time, and then-Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles was opposed to expanding gambling. Meanwhile, Bush’s close ally, incoming Florida House Speaker John Thrasher, was courting Trump and met with the developer and twice discussed his arrangement with the Seminoles, according to news reports at the time. And on May 7, 1998, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts cut its largest check to the Republican Party of Florida: $50,000. Bush’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, charged that Bush and the GOP were selling the state out to gaming interests... Bush has remained consistently anti-gambling. And by late fall of that year, it was clear he was going to win. And he made clear that he wasn’t going to approve a gambling deal. Around this time, Trump appeared to pull out of his deal with the Seminoles. Trump’s on-again-off-again consultant, Roger Stone, told POLITICO on Wednesday night that Trump technically withdrew from his deal with the Seminoles before Bush became governor. But Trump’s withdrawal corresponded with Bush’s likely victory and his intransigence over gambling expansion.
Trump wanted casino gambling. He contributed generously to Jeb and Florida Republicans at a key moment when he sensed an opening. And he was denied his prize because Jeb's stance didn't budge. "I promise, if I'd wanted it, I would've gotten it," Trump now says, insisting that he never even pursued Casino gambling in Florida. Every element of his scoffing bravado is untrue. Numerous independent fact-checkers, including the Washington Post and Bloomberg, have offered further confirmation. This episode is instructive in several ways: (1) It blows a hole in one of Trump's favorite knocks on the rest of the field. Trump says they're all bought-and-paid-for by big donors -- and that he would know because he's been a big donor. It's a line that resonates. But Bush highlighted an example that undermines Trump's thesis, using a Trump-specific example. With the facts on his side, he should have pressed harder on the point. A missed opportunity. (2) Another favored Trump argument is that he's a winner who gets what he wants. Not in this case, he didn't -- yet he baselessly struck his winning posture anyway, despite having lost. Does Trump inhabit a fantasy world wherein losses don't happen to him? (3) Trump is evidently willing to flagrantly lie in order to win a fleeting debate exchange. It might be plausible to argue that he may have simply forgotten one or two attempted deals over a long career...if he hadn't spent two decades chasing this particular dream. He also could have stood on firmer ground by disputing whether his strategically-timed political donations coincided with his casino ambitions, but he didn't. He categorically denied that he'd even pursued that goal at all. He was categorically wrong. Are conservatives who support Trump excited about replacing one lying president with another? Isn't a big part of The Donald's alleged appeal that he's brave and bold enough to be a teller of unvarnished truths? Or doesn't it matter what he says, does, or believes -- so long as he "fights," or whatever? Speaking of which, I'll leave you with yet more after-the-fact debate whining from the Republican frontrunner:
Trump tells Morning Joe everyone ganged up on him, that CNN added third hour to make more advertising revenue— HowardKurtz (@HowardKurtz) September 17, 2015
When you're leading in the polls and dominating -- and I mean dominating -- news coverage, you're going to face heavy incoming fire. Also, it's beyond rich to see Donald Trump, of all people, complaining about others milking something for additional exposure, attention and money. I'd suggest that Trump has zero self-awareness, but he disproved that in last night's lightning round, joking that his Secret Service code name would be "Humble." A genuinely funny line.