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“The War in Iraq was a Big, Fat Mistake”: Trump & Bush Spar over War & 9/11

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At Saturday’s Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush had a tense exchange over former President George W. Bush’s record in Iraq. “Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake,” Trump said. “George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.” Jeb Bush responded: “I am sick and tired of him going after my family. … And 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.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Saturday night’s Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the ninth Republican debate of the election cycle. Donald Trump and Jeb Bush had a tense exchange over George Bush’s record in Iraq.

DONALD TRUMP: Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right? Now, you can take it anywhere you want. It took Jeb—it took Jeb Bush, if you remember, at the beginning of his announcement, when he announced for president, took him five days. He went back. It was a mistake, it wasn’t a mistake. Took him five days before his people told him what to say. And he ultimately said it was a mistake. The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives. We don’t even have it. Iran is taking over Iraq, with the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Obviously, it was a mistake.


DONALD TRUMP: George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes, but that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.

JEB BUSH: I’m sick and tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he’s had. And frankly, I could—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. But I am sick and tired—

DONALD TRUMP: He spent $22 million in ads against me.

JEB BUSH: I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive, in my mind. And while—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. And he’s had the gall to go after my mother.

DONALD TRUMP: The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign. Remember that.

JEB BUSH: He’s had the gall to go after my mother.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jeb Bush and Donald Trump going at it in the Greenville, South Carolina, Republican presidential primary debate. Senator Marco Rubio and Donald Trump also debated George W. Bush’s record on 9/11.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank God, all the time, that it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11, and not Al Gore.

DONALD TRUMP: How did he keep us safe, when the World Trade Center [inaudible]? The World—excuse me, I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That’s not safe. That is not safe, Marco.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Marco?

DONALD TRUMP: That is not safe.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Marco Rubio, Florida senator, presidential candidate.

We’re joined now by three guests: David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, currently a USA Today columnist and Syracuse Law lecturer, his latest book, Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality; still with us, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw of UCLA and Columbia University; and Scott Horton, human rights attorney, contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, lectures at Columbia.

Well, why don’t we begin with David Cay Johnston? Your thoughts on this debate and Donald Trump really going at Jeb Bush on the issue of his brother, George W. Bush, saying he lied to get into the war in Iraq?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I think this was a very carefully picked audience that does not want to address the fundamental facts here. The Republicans have worked very hard to make it sound like George Bush didn’t mess up, when we were attacked, after he had been warned. And we recall George Bush later said, “What was I supposed to do?” because he had not a clue about what to do. So I think that what you were hearing from that crowd was attacking Trump for taking down one of the big myths, one of the big lies, that’s been sold among Republicans. And the notion that a President Donald Trump would respect the Constitution, I think we should wonder about—notice his use of the word George Bush’s “reign.” Presidents don’t reign.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David Cay Johnston, I’d like to ask you about the debates in general. Your sense of how these Republican candidates have dealt with the economic issues that you’ve written so much about?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: I feel like my children, when I had children at home squabbling over a broken toy. There’s no substance to them. And all you have to do is compare the last Democratic debate, where you had Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders talking about real issues—not as carefully as I’d like, because we don’t pick the moderators based on interviewing skills, we pick them for entertainment value, but talking about real issues. And when you watch the Republicans, by and large, it’s like a bunch of children squabbling over a toy or who hit Willie, a lot of personality. The Republicans have allowed themselves, the other candidates, to be baited by Donald Trump into personality matters and areas that add to his strength. So, it’s very good, I think, that we’re now seeing some audiences—this one in Greenville, South Carolina—push back with Trump; unfortunately, it was about things Trump said that actually have merit.

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