If Jeb Bush is to have any chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2016, he needs a ‘media moment’. He needs an exchange of arguments or insults with Donald J. Trump in which he indisputably comes out on top.
If you listen to Team Bush’s boosters, that moment happened last night. But they would say that.
Trump and Bush clashed fiercely over foreign policy and the legacy of Jeb’s brother, George W. Bush. And the crowd booed Trump. Trump said that the Bush II administration had lied over Iraq. ‘They said there were weapons of mass destruction,’ he said. ‘There were none and they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.’
This prompted boos from the audience and an emotional response from Jeb Bush, who said: ‘When Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building the security apparatus that kept us safe.’
Bush also said: ‘I am sick and tired of him going after my family … He has had the gall to go after my mother … My mom is the strongest woman I know.’
‘She should be running,’ Trump snapped back.
Trump is better at being rude than Bush. Yet it might have been an error for him to insult the Bush family and diss the war on terror ahead of the South Carolina primary. Dubya, the 43rd president, remains surprisingly popular in the Palmetto state. There are eight military bases in South Carolina, so adopting the less hawkish line is risky.
Trump also turned on the audience, repeatedly calling them lobbyists. This may have made him sound a bit deranged. But he did the same thing in last Saturday’s TV debate, then triumphed three days later in New Hampshire.
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who after dropping out of the presidential race in December has not only endorsed Jeb but become his lead spokesman, was adamant that Trump had gone too far. He said after the debate that Trump ‘went to a level of nut job we haven’t seen before.’ Graham called himself ‘the happiest man in South Carolina’.
Yet while people like Graham see a tactical mistake, most people sitting at home see a famous man shouting truths at a group of lying politicians and lobbyists. And they like it.