It’s no secret that Donald Trump has contempt for Jeb Bush, some of it well-earned. And Trump’s recent remarks pointing out that “the World Trade Center came down” during George W. Bush’s “reign” have been rightly seen as a way to needle and flummox brother Jeb. In that, he’s been quite successful, and Jeb’s response has been flatfooted.
But this was hardly an isolated incident of attack on George W. from Trump. In fact, it’s one of the milder things that Trump has said about the 43rd president over the course of many years, beginning long before either Trump or Jeb Bush were presidential candidates.
Trump may have changed his mind on some things, such as single payer health care. When asked his opinion of people, he sometimes speaks in generalities, often saying, “I like him/her a lot.” But one topic on which he’s been the soul of consistency and specificity since at least 2007 (and perhaps earlier) has been his extremely low opinion of George W. Bush.
Bush’s presidency has been much criticized by both left and right. For example, it’s not unusual for critics on both sides to complain that Bush went into Iraq precipitously and naively, and that the Iraq invasion caused more trouble than it solved. Critics on the right, however, often criticize Bush for his lack of fiscal austerity as well, and for his failure to articulate and promote conservative principles sufficiently and clearly.
In contrast, the recurrent leftist line against President Bush has been ad hominem: George W. Bush was a liar who knew there were no WMDs in Iraq but went in anyway, for the oil or just because. Bush was Hitlerian and evil, and also profoundly stupid. The right invented the term Bush Derangement Syndrome to describe this particular sort of over-the-top, up-close and personal clichéd leftist denunciation of Bush both as president and as man.
Trump’s criticism of Bush not only goes back many years, but it has often followed the leftist BDR template rather than the pattern on the right. And although it’s Jeb he’s running against this go-round, the evidence is that there’s a rift between Trump and the Bush family that goes back to the 1980s, when George H. W. Bush the elder was president:
Trump…is open about his animosity toward [the Bushes]; he characterizes his relationship with former president Bill Clinton, for instance, as far closer.
He lashed out at former president George W. Bush over the war in Iraq during his tenure. He turned on Bush’s father when he raised taxes during his term as president, despite pledging not to do so.
The WaPo piece says that during their interview with Trump in August of 2015, “He found 33 ways to skewer the [Bush] family — about one put-down per minute.” One of those put-downs of George W. Bush was still another jibe far more typical of leftist taunts than of the right:
"He didn’t seem smart. I’d watch him in interviews and I’d look at people and ask, ‘Do you think he understands the question?’”
But the sharpest of Trump’s attacks on George W. had occurred much earlier, in a series of interviews in 2007 and 2008, when neither Trump nor Jeb Bush were candidates. For example, in a 2008 interview with Wolf Blitzer, Trump advocated Bush’s impeachment, while adding how much he likes Nancy Pelosi:
BLITZER: [What do you think of] Nancy Pelosi, the speaker?
TRUMP: Well, you know, when she first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot.
But I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.
BLITZER: Impeaching him?