A South Carolina conservative congressman dubbed Saturday night’s GOP presidential debate in his home state “strange” — particularly for Donald Trump’s blame directed at former President Bush for the 9/11 attacks.
Trump, meanwhile, stood by his assertion that it’s a “myth” Bush kept the country safe.
The exchange began when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he thanks God “all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore.”
“And you can — I think you can look back in hindsight and say a couple of things, but he kept us safe. And not only did he keep us safe, but no matter what you want to say about weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein was in violation of U.N. resolutions, in open violation, and the world wouldn’t do anything about it, and George W. Bush enforced what the international community refused to do,” Rubio continued. “And again, he kept us safe, and I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.”
“How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center — the World — excuse me. I lost hundreds of friends. The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush,” Trump interjected, drawing boos from the crowd. “He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe.”
“The World Trade Center came down because Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance to kill him,” Rubio replied.
“And George Bush– by the way, George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA,” Trump said.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who endorsed Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) back in September and has been courted by the remaining campaigns since Paul dropped out, dropped into a Rubio townhall today. He’s reportedly studying the candidates before redirecting his endorsement.
Mulvaney told Fox on Sunday that the 9/11 exchange in the debate was odd — as was most of the evening.
“I’m not really sure why Mr. Trump did that. It was a fairly pro-Bush audience last night, you could tell that during the introductions,” said the congressman, who’s a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “And as critical as Trump has been of different parts of the Bush presidency, I don’t know of anybody generally in the country who blames George Bush for 9/11, and certainly nobody in that room blamed George Bush for 9/11. That was the strange part of the day or the evening. Of course, it was a strange evening for most of the time.”
Mulvaney also scratched his head at the effectiveness of the Jeb Bush dustups with Trump.
“I don’t think the Jeb Bush did particularly well. I’m not sure why he was attacking Donald Trump. First of all, he’s not going to get Donald Trump’s voters away from him in the first place. And secondly, even if he did peel them off, they would go to Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. So, I’m not really what Mr. Bush, what Governor Bush was trying to accomplish last night. I don’t think he did particularly well,” he said.
“I think John Kasich did fairly well. I thought that Marco Rubio did well and I thought that Cruz and Trump ands sort of tread water. So, my guess is you won’t see Dr. Carson do very well and you won’t see Governor Bush do very well next Saturday.”
Mulvaney noted that Newt Gingrich came into South Carolina in fourth place four years ago and “ended up winning through a strong debate performance.”
“In fact, if anything, [Bush] probably lost ground to Kasich,” he added.
The congressman said it was disappointing that the words “debt” and “deficit” were only mentioned twice during the debate — once by Bush, and once by Ben Carson.
Trump reiterated on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that he doesn’t believe Bush kept America safe.
“Because the World Trade Center was knocked down. Look, that’s another myth. I wish he did. I have nothing against him. I don’t know him. I don’t know that — I don’t think I ever even met him. I don’t think I did meet him. I have nothing against George Bush,” Trump said.
“I’m just saying when Jeb Bush gets up and says my brother kept us safe. How did he keep us safe when the World Trade Center during his time in office came down? I was there. I lost many, many friends — that was the worst tragedy in the history of this country. That was the worst tragedy in the history of this country — worse than Pearl Harbor because they attacked civilians. They attacked people in office buildings. They attacked people walking on the streets.”
Rubio told NBC that his debate response wasn’t blaming Bill Clinton for 9/11. “I’m putting it on his decision not to take out bin Laden, absolutely. This is what happens when you have a chance to take out the leader of a terrorist organization and you fail to do so and the results are something like 9/11,” he said.
“My argument is if you’re going to ascribe blame, don’t blame George W. Bush, blame a decision that was made years earlier not to take out bin Laden when the opportunity presented itself.”