How Trump's attack has given new life to faltering Bush
Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30
It used to be said that George W Bush's presidency was without a purpose until the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Could Donald Trump have unwittingly injected the same sense of meaning into Jeb Bush's flagging campaign by dredging up the devastating 2001 assaults - and the former president's supposed failure to prevent them - during last Saturday's bruising debate?
Mr Bush seemed particularly animated when he spoke on the subject at Monday's rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, immediately after it had been addressed by his brother.
"I don't know if you all watched the debate on Saturday night," the candidate said, referring to Mr Trump's accusations that the George W Bush administration failed to keep America safe and that it lied over Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons stockpile to justify invading Iraq.
"I thought it was a little strange that a front-running candidate would attack the president of the United States, who did keep us safe. While he (Mr Trump) was building a reality TV show, George Bush brought together a team to build the security apparatus that is one of the reasons we haven't been attacked more often than we have.
"I closed my eyes; I thought it was Michael Moore on stage."
The meaning of the last remark could not have been clearer if Mr Bush had said: Mr Trump, you're no Republican. It's a refrain the party front-runner will hear more often as the Bush campaign tries to capitalise on his embrace of what was once seen as an exclusively Democrat position on the Iraq war, summed up in the slogan, "Bush lied, people died."
George W seemed more presidential in campaigning for his brother than he often did during his own successful run in 2000.
The elder-statesman version of George W Bush is an assured figure, referring to Mr Trump's campaign with reproachful disdain without mentioning the candidate himself. Then: "I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated. But we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration."
And then, in a clear reference to Mr Trump's mantra of the need for "strength": "It seems like Americans are yearning for a strong leader. Strength is not empty rhetoric... Real strength, strength of purpose and character, comes from integrity and character, and in my experience, the strongest person usually isn't the loudest one in the room."
The implication? That Mr Trump lacked not only integrity and character, but also the strength he so openly boasts that only he possesses. One could imagine the billionaire tycoon's florid complexion turning incandescent, if he was watching - and not too busy attacking Ted Cruz.
The polls show Mr Trump with a huge lead in the run-up to Saturday's Republican primary in South Carolina. So the former president's intervention - popular as he is in a state that gave him unstoppable momentum after he won the primary there during the 2000 campaign - may have come too late.
Yet George W's authoritative extolling of his brother's "measured" qualities may resonate with a wider Republican voter base surely given pause for thought by the sheer rancour of last weekend's debate - and Mr Trump's contribution to it. Time alone will tell. (© Daily Telegraph, London)