Jeb Bush gritted his teeth and threw a series of punches at Donald Trump on Sunday, saying his rival for the Republican presidential nomination was an “actor” who was not serious about running for the White House and whose remarks about the 9/11 attacks undercut his “credibility” as commander-in-chief.
True to form, Trump hit back immediately, razzing Bush on Twitter even as the former Florida governor continued to talk on television.
In a pre-taped interview with Fox News Sunday, Trump also said that had he been president, “there’s a good chance” the 11 September hijackers “would not have been in our country”.
All but one of the 19 men who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania entered the country legally on business or tourist visas. One entered on a student visa.
After months of influential Republicans spoiling for a fight against Trump, led by Bush, Bush attacked directly. He took issue with Trump’s contention that Bush’s brother, George W Bush, had not kept the country safe as president, citing the 9/11 attacks.
“Does anybody actually blame my brother for what happened on 9/11?” Bush said on CNN’s State of the Union. “They’re totally marginal … It calls into question Mr Trump’s credibility as commander-in-chief.”
For days, Trump had taunted Bush on Twitter and in interviews, at one point calling him “pathetic for saying nothing happened during your brother’s term when the World Trade Center was attacked and came down”.
That aggression, the Bush team apparently decided at the weekend, would not stand. Bush disseminated a new web video on Saturday entitled Judgement [sic], which uses a whimsical clarinet soundtrack and interview lowlights to portray Trump as a clownish figure not suited to the grave responsibilities of the presidency.
Bush followed the video with the CNN interview on Sunday, in which he sought to expand on the theme of Trump’s lack of qualifications to be president.
Asked if he would be comfortable with Trump’s finger on the proverbial nuclear button, Bush said: “I have great doubts, to be honest with you.”
“It looks as if he’s not taking the possibility of the being president seriously,” said Bush. “For him, it looks as if he’s an actor playing the role of president. In his own words, it gives me great concerns.”
Apparently watching TV somewhere, Trump did not take the attacks passively. “Jeb Bush should stop trying to defend his brother and focus on his own shortcomings and how to fix them,” he tweeted.
CNN host Jake Tapper asked Bush why he thought Trump, who has been leading national polls since July, was so popular with Republican voters.
“He’s a phenomenal personality, for sure,” Bush said, through a tight smile. “I don’t think Trump’s going to win the nomination.”