First, some context. Trump initiated this new round of political fisticuffs with Jeb Bush late last week, when the GOP frontrunner bizarrely parlayed a question about comforting the nation in difficult times into a gratuitous shot at President George W. Bush's inability to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the same answer, he confused the Sandy Hook elementary mass shooting with the Superstorm Sandy natural disaster while criticizing Obama. Message: Under a Trump administration, bad things won't happen to America because of my details-oriented hyper competence and strength. Jeb punched back, calling Trump "pathetic" for attacking W, reprising his well-received debate line that the 43rd president "kept us safe." Trump's retort:
No @JebBush, you’re pathetic for saying nothing happened during your brother’s term when the World Trade Center was attacked and came down.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2015
The pro-Bush line is that W transformed his presidency and kept America safe after the stunning trauma of 9/11, which occurred less than a year into his eight-year tenure. True. Trump's point (again, injected into an answer about having a big heart) is that you still can't ignore the fact that the deadly attacks occurred on Bush's watch. Also true. And round and round it goes. Having generated lots of coverage for escalating yet another high-profile feud, Trump has since pivoted to arguing that although he's not directly blaming Bush for 9/11 per se, he -- unlike some people! -- probably could have stopped the attacks from happening in the first place:
Departing from the typical conservative argument that the Clinton administration's negligence and reticence allowed Al Qaeda to blossom, Trump traces the cause of the attacks to lax immigration policy. If he'd been president, "there's a good chance that those people would not have been in our country," he says. Perhaps the billionaire will be pressed further on this assertion, as all but one of the 19 hijackers entered the US through legal means, and none sneaked across the border. Regardless, Eric Levitz at New York magazine writes that Trump's decision to dig in on this point presents both risks and opportunities:
A YouGov poll in late September found that 80 percent of Republican voters approve of George W. Bush's legacy, while 85 percent say he did "an excellent/good job of keeping the U.S. safe." But while the GOP base remembers Bush-era foreign-policy with fondness, the former president's support for comprehensive immigration reform is grossly out-of-step with GOP primary voters in 2015. If Trump is going to attack the Bush legacy on counter-terrorism, reminding Republicans of the Bush family's long history of immigration "weakness" may be the most politically viable angle he's got.
Incidentally, does Trump really fit the tough-as-nails-immigration-warrior niche he's fashioned for himself? Remember, he criticized Mitt Romney for alienating Latino voters and adopting a "mean-spirited" immigration posture in 2012, and was reportedly persuaded by immigration activists to support the DREAM Act in 2013, a stance he's since abandoned. Now the Austin American Statesman reports that Trump softened his position on the efficacy of a constructing a wall spanning the entire southern border during a discussion the issue with local officials in Texas. Meanwhile, a Washington Post story published yesterday undermines another pillar of Trump's campaign:
As he brags that he is turning down millions of dollars for his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has leveled a steady line of attack against his rivals: that they are too cozy with big-money super PACs and may be breaking the law by coordinating with them...What Trump doesn’t say is that he and his top campaign aide have connections to a super PAC collecting large checks to support his candidacy — a group viewed by people familiar with his campaign as the sanctioned outlet for wealthy donors...[Trump campaign manager Corey] Lewandowski denied that Trump or the campaign had given the green light to Make America Great Again...In a later interview, he threatened to file a lawsuit if The Washington Post reported that Trump had given the group his blessing...In one of several interviews with The Post, Lewandowski first denied knowing Ciletti or anyone connected to the super PAC. “I don’t know him,” Lewandowski said. Two days later, when confronted with the campaign’s payments to Ciletti’s firm, Lewandowski acknowledged he was familiar with Ciletti. “I know a lot of people,” he said. “I know of Mike Ciletti.” After being pressed for more details, he hung up.
So Trump may have deeper ties to his big money SuperPAC than he lets on when he 's inveighing against other candidates on the subject -- as does his campaign manager, who was caught in a lie by WaPo, whom he'd threatened to sue. But will any of these details on campaign finance or immigration deter a single Trump follower? Doubtful. It's clear that for many, his issue stances and overall preparedness are tertiary factors behind his appeal. Then again, who can really be confident about a damn thing in race anymore? The rules are a-changin'. Even in a climate of radically shifting dynamics, however, some laws of political gravity still apply. For instance, Jeb's slashing staff salaries as he treads water in single digits isn't an indicator of vibrancy. Nor is his increasing reliance on his family name to raise funds, even as he insists he's his "own man" to a Bush-wary electorate:
Struggling to regain his footing, Jeb is out with a new campaign video; a tribute to what he calls Donald Trump's unfitness for high office:
Parting thought - Since we made reference to whiny feuds earlier, apparently this is still happening:
Best thing my supporters can do if you don't like the way @megynkelly and her puppets unfairly treat "us" is don't watch her show!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2015
How's that been working out?