This was supposed to be Jeb Bush’s moment.
At a time of world crisis, a new Bush brother was expected to reassert a leadership role, dismissing the celebs and newbies and book peddlers and steering America back toward serious foreign policy hewed from family experience.
Yet the cameras Saturday were on a louder challenger drawing cheers in Texas, not by backing Bush or former Gov. and President George W. Bush, but by openly mocking both them and the Iraq War.
“We shouldn’t have been in Iraq,” Donald J. Trump told a cheering arena crowd in Beaumont, surrounded by Republicans in deep-red conservative Southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.
“I should get points for vision — I said don’t be there,” Trump said.
“… We ended up making a big mistake, and we’ve totally destroyed the Middle East.”
Trump derided the very idea of foreign policy experience, describing former and current White House officials as “not poker players. They’re not chess players. They’re not anything. They’re just politicians. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Trump has bragged about his own fortunetelling skills before, apparently referring to an August 2004 Esquire profile more than a year after the Iraq invasion where he declared the war “blatantly wrong.”
Barely 10 years later, it’s still amazing to see a Republican leading nationally while opposing the war in Iraq, or getting cheered for that in Texas.
“In many Republicans’ eyes, it was [George W. Bush’s] decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein that is largely responsible” now for the Islamic State, Rice University political science professor Mark P. Jones emailed after the Trump speech.
(Obviously, Jones added, Republican voters also blame “the less than stellar policies adopted by President Obama.”)
Moments after criticizing Bush’s overreaction, Trump said he would now “bomb the hell” out of the Middle East.
Jeb Bush’s comments were more nuanced.
“This is a war. … This is an organized effort to destroy Western civilization,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt: “We need to regarner the alliances, fortify those alliances, reconnect with our counterintelligence and intelligence capabilities with our European allies and engage in the Middle East.”
Bush can regain establishment voters, TCU political science professor Adam Schiffer emailed.
“However, a large portion of the Republican base — say, the ones who burned their Dixie Chicks CDs — want to hear tough, uncompromising rhetoric,” Schiffer wrote: “[Trump] can solidify their loyalty if he comes through with tough talk.”
Southern Methodist University professor Matthew Wilson predicted accurately a month ago that a terror attack would let Trump “do some saber-rattling and talk about all the people he would bomb.”
Trump’s persona as “belligerent and combative” would play well with voters, Wilson wrote then.
Definitely in Texas.