19 October 2015

Trump and Bush argue over a safe call

In baseball terms, Donald Trump has been kicking dirt on Jeb Bush's shoes ever since the former Florida governor credited his brother, the former President, for keeping the country safe. As their debate has droned on, it becomes clear that theirs is a disagreement over chronology. Trump has made the commonsensical observation that since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place while George W. Bush was President, it's wrong to say that Dubya kept the country safe. Jeb seems to be saying that his brother should be credited with keeping us safe since 9/11, but he also seems to be saying that Dubya should not be blamed for failing to prevent the attacks. Trump actually has tried to be slightly diplomatic here, telling interviewers that he isn't blaming Dubya for the attacks personally but insisting that the attacks were preventable. You can see, I suppose, why Jeb thinks Trump is blaming his brother personally, but that doesn't justify Bush's hysterical response to Trump's comments. The way Jeb has reacted, you'd think Trump was a "truther," but nothing Trump has said, at least as far as I've seen, indicates a belief that Dubya "let" the attacks happen. His seems to be the standard indictment of bureaucratic incompetence and lack of cooperation, while Jeb's insistence that only what happened after the attacks counts seems almost obscenely obtuse. Worse, Trump's remarks provoked Jeb into another round of crybaby comments. Those remarks, Bush whined, again proved Trump unfit for the office he seeks. Jeb hasn't yet caught on to the fact that rhetoric of that sort is obsolete, that Trump (for good or ill) is so far waging a winning campaign against the politics of the gaffe. While opinionators and rival candidates have focused on Trump's (and to a lesser extent Ben Carson's) defiance of "political correctness," the larger lesson that might be learned is that many voters are increasingly determined that one sentence, be it politically insensitive or factually wrong, shouldn't sink someone's campaign. Trump and Carson are popular as outsiders because their supporters are convinced of their essential competence as professionals or character as individuals in a way that has little to do with how they respond to pop quizzes or whether they hurt people's feelings. For such people Jeb must look like a quibbling crybaby throwing a tantrum because he can't handle the truth. Bush may be trying to kick the dirt back onto Trump's shoes, but he may end up only burying himself even deeper.

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