With his poll numbers reflecting a campaign in critical condition, Jeb Bush recognizes that he needs a shift in strategy. After months are trying assiduously to stay above the fray, the former Florida governor has finally taken off the gloves. And he’s taking direct shots at the man dominating the Republican primaries.
In an interview with CNN this past Sunday, Bush said of Donald Trump, “He’s not taking the responsibility, the possibility of being president of the United States really seriously. For him, it looks as though he’s an actor playing a role of the candidate for president. Not boning up on the issues, not having a broad sense of the responsibilities of what it is to be a president. Across the spectrum of foreign policy, Mr. Trump talks about things as though he’s still on ‘The Apprentice.’”
If poll numbers don’t explain Bush’s sudden aggression, Trump’s comments regarding 9/11 might. Surprising many, Jeb has decided not to distance himself from his brother, former President George W. Bush. In fact, he has gone out of his way on numerous occasions to defend his brother’s legacy, including his decision to go into Iraq. Jeb might remind some of a boring schoolteacher in his campaign approach, but it’s clear he’s got a little Godfather in him somewhere: Never take sides against the family.
Last week, Trump claimed that Jeb’s brother deserved at least partial blame for 9/11. “He was president, OK? Blame him or don’t blame him, but he was president,” he told Bloomberg. “The World Trade Center came down during his reign.”
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Trump launched another round of ammunition. “I’m not blaming George Bush, but I don’t want Jeb Bush to say ‘My brother kept us safe,’ because Sept. 11 was one of the worst days in the history of this country,” he said.
Jeb, on CNN, stuck by Bush 43. “My brother responded to a crisis, and he did it as you would hope a president would do. He united the country, he organized our country and he kept us safe. And there’s no denying that. The great majority of Americans believe that,” he said. “And I don’t know why he keeps bringing this up. It doesn’t show that he’s a serious person as it relates to being commander in chief and being the architect of a foreign policy.”
Unfortunately for Jeb, Trump’s criticisms aren’t entirely off the mark. In the years since 9/11, reams of documents have been released showing how many security warnings the Bush administration ignored on the road to tragedy. Would any other president have stopped the attack? We’ll never know. Probably not. But you can’t heap all the credit on Bush for “keeping us safe” and reserve him none of the blame. And that’s disregarding all that came after, much of which is still controversial to say the least.
It’s true, though; Trump’s comments on foreign policy have been light on substance. Does that mean he’s not fit to be commander-in-chief? Not at all. If you go looking back through Trump’s career, you’ll see that he talks about his business ventures in the same way. If you interviewed Trump for a position in your company, you’d probably think he was all sizzle and no steak. But a history of astronomical real estate success proves otherwise. Trump knows something that Jeb doesn’t: Voters want real talk, not IQ demonstrations.
But Jeb doesn’t have to learn it from Trump; our swaggering 43rd president knew it too.