Here we go again.
Donald Trump has attacked the Bushes — and with a reflexiveness I’m not even sure his pro-Establishment critics understand — he has been ferociously attacked for doing so.
Over at the New York Post John Podhoretz assails Trump in the South Carolina debate as “out of control,” saying: “So you want to know how Jeb did? His best debate yet.” Podhoretz goes on to say of Trump that if Trump wins South Carolina: “We will know for a certainty that the man Republicans want for their tribune in 2016 is a disgusting jerk…”
Ah, yes. Attacking the conservative base of the GOP is the go-to reflex in Establishment-land. We’re all a bunch of barbarians out here who simply don’t belong in what Ronald Reagan used to disdain as the “fraternal order.” We don’t know our red wines from our whites, and you can’t have primitives who mistake the salad fork for the dinner fork at the GOP table.
To these Establishmentarians the Trump performance was a call for the smelling salts. Trump attacked the Bushes. O…M…G!!!!
What seems to go right over the heads of these fine folks is that there is more to this than just the battle between Ronald Reagan and the GOP Establishment all over again. To be sure, Trump isn’t Reagan. As noted often enough, no two human souls are alike. But while the animosity on display towards Trump from the Bush camp and the larger GOP Establishment is exactly what was on display as Reagan did battle with both the Bushes and the GOP years ago — there’s more here.
Put aside the Reagan-Bush divide. With President Bush 43 now campaigning in South Carolina for Jeb — and with Jeb Bush haughtily defending John McCain as a “hero” and taking such umbrage at Trump attacks on the Bushes — let’s take a look back at the 2000 GOP primary in South Carolina between George W. Bush and John McCain. — Let’s just see how “the Bushes” and the GOP Establishment work when challenged. Suffice to say the Bush campaign of 2000 and its allies treated John McCain as anything but a hero. And conducted the Bush campaign in a way far distant from the public image Jeb Bush seeks to portray.
Take a look at this 2008 story in Vanity Fair about the George W. Bush-McCain showdown in South Carolina in 2000. The title:
The Trashing of John McCain
The author, investigative reporter Richard Gooding, returned to South Carolina eight years later when McCain was by then the 2008 GOP nominee. His purpose: to examine exactly how the Bushes ran their campaign against McCain after McCain defeated Bush in an upset in the 2000 GOP New Hampshire primary. Among other things Gooding writes this of McCain defending President Bush in the 2004 campaign against John Kerry, while simultaneously defending Kerry against the Swift Boat attacks from conservative vets. Then he goes on at length with a graphic look at the conduct of the Bush campaign in 2000 South Carolina against John McCain. Here’s an excerpt:
Simultaneously stumping for Bush and defending Kerry against attacks by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, John McCain must be haunted by the vicious South Carolina smear campaign (he was crazy, a traitor, he fathered a black child) that helped Bush win the 2000 Republican nomination. Has McCain joined the team that engineered his destruction?
… McCain’s deputy campaign manager, Roy Fletcher, told me that by the morning after the New Hampshire vote “we had all kinds of stuff coming into the Washington headquarters. They were already spreading all this crap about McCain.… We knew right then we had a problem: These guys are gonna go nuts. … It was pretty obvious they’d laid a plan for South Carolina, to start immediately. Just boom! Go at him as hard and as vicious as you can.”
… Nancy Snow drove all night from New Hampshire to volunteer in McCain’s office in her old hometown of Greenville. Then an assistant professor of political science at New England College (she’s now at Cal State Fullerton), Snow had invited John and Cindy McCain to speak at her school and was sold.
“We were starting to get wind that this was going to be a very different campaign,” she said from her parents’ home in Birmingham, Alabama. “There was this sense that everything was turning negative. People were walking into the office with copies of this particular e-mail and asking us about it.… It was so revolting.”
The “revolting” e-mail—alleging that “McCain chose to sire children without marriage”—was from Richard Hand, a professor of the Bible at Greenville’s Christian-fundamentalist Bob Jones University, Bush’s very first campaign stop, on February 2. With the school’s ban on interracial dating still in effect then, the veteran political reporter Curtis Wilkie told me “he might as well have gone to a goddamned Klan rally” as go to B.J.U.
There was worse. The McCain’s had adopted a child from Bangladesh — and mysteriously flyers appeared accusing McCain of having fathered a black child.
… Almost daily, the ugly buzz grew. Another prominent rumor was that Cindy was a drug addict. In 1994 she’d admitted that she had a prescription-painkiller problem and blamed it on two spinal surgeries and the stress of her husband’s role in the Keating Five scandal. (He was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a disgraced financier.)
There were other whispers as well: McCain had slept with prostitutes and given his wife V.D.; he’d turned traitor in the “Hanoi Hilton,” or was mentally unstable from his captivity, or was a Manchurian Candidate, brainwashed to destroy the G.O.P. (There was then, and still is, a wacky Web site devoted to those last theories…. For just meeting with the gay Log Cabin Republicans, McCain was labeled the “Fag Army” candidate.
… I also unearthed one incident where the caller didn’t even bother being anonymous. The call was received by Neal Thigpen, a political scientist at Francis Marion University, in Florence, South Carolina, who said the caller told him, “‘I understand you’re for McCain,’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ … and he proceeded to tell me that Cindy was a drug addict and all this kind of stuff. He said he was on leave from Governor Tom Ridge’s staff in Pennsylvania and down here working on the Bush campaign.” Thigpen later met the man; he was, in fact, an official in Ridge’s administration at the time. Was he just freelancing? He never returned my calls.
Reporters say they, too, were being fed the smears, but more directly. A national correspondent covering Bush that year told me that campaign operatives, “in a very off-the-record setting, would say something like ‘I don’t know if this is true or not, but, of course, you know McCain just doesn’t seem sane, does he?’ They’d kind of plant the seeds that way.”
… But several experienced consultants I talked to who’ve been part of crazy campaigns themselves say that the people at the top simply don’t have to soil their own hands.
“The message to the hard-core Republican precinct captains and county chairmen, who had an investment in the Bush campaign in terms of their own political power,” said Democrat Kevin Geddings, “was ‘You’ll have whatever resources you need, and you do whatever is necessary. If we don’t stop McCain here, Bush loses.’”
… On August 12, Don Imus of the Imus in the Morning show, on radio and MSNBC, talked with him about the Swift Boat vets’ attacks and later remarked, “After what they did to you in South Carolina, which I’m to this day convinced that if the president had a hand in that—he certainly never apologized, to my knowledge, to the American people or to you for all that—and I just don’t know how you’ve been able to put that behind you.”
And then there were the push polls spreading the nasty anti-McCain rumors — something Trump is now accusing the Ted Cruz campaign of using. Says VF of Bush’s use of push polls:
“The rumors were spread through push polls—“really not polls” at all, according to Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion and president of the National Council on Public Polls, but “more of a telemarketing device, where you’re actually calling people in the guise of a poll and you’re not gathering information as much as you’re disseminating it.” A push poll is further defined as solely intended to spread false, damning information….
Now. Why is this old story relevant in 2016? — A full 16 years after the South Carolina primary in which the Bushes and/or their allies were bitterly accused by the McCain campaign of, as this article is titled, “trashing John McCain.”
Because now the target is Donald Trump. And the difference is that Trump has no intention of sitting idly by and rolling over while being “McCained” by the latest incarnation of the Bush campaign apparatus. A campaign apparatus that in 2000, to repeat, was accused of spreading rumors that McCain had fathered a black child, was running push polls that called Mrs. McCain a drug addict and oh by the way did off-off-the record conversations with reporters telling them that “you know McCain just doesn’t seem sane, does he?”
It is telling — more than telling — that McCain was not only incapable of fighting back against the 2000 Bush campaign and the campaign of underground rumors that trashed him. — As the VF article says: “McCain, in his 2002 memoir, Worth the Fighting For, wrote (without going into much detail), ‘There wasn’t a damn thing I could do about the subterranean assaults on my reputation except to act in a way that contradicted their libel.’”
Writes VF in that McCain article:
“When someone hits you,” the McCain campaign’s South Carolina strategist Richard Quinn told me, “you have to respond within 24 hours or else the negative begins to work.”
McCain’s top aides were “all trying to find ways to respond, to be just as aggressive,” he said. But their candidate believed “it’s not worth winning if you have to behave in ways you’re not proud of. I admired him for that position, but at the same time we didn’t fight back as hard. I guess we didn’t want it as much.”
Note well that line of McCain: “… we didn’t fight back as hard.”
Indeed, the McCain campaign did not fight back in 2000. And they didn’t fight back against Obama in 2008. Nor did the Romney campaign fight back when running against Obama in 2012. Which is why neither man became president — and George W. and Barack Obama did.
What is unfolding in the South Carolina primary before our eyes is the 2016 version of the 2000 Bush-McCain fight all over again. With all the attack dogs in the Jeb Bush apparatus — aided now (albeit independently) by the Cruz campaign — turning on Trump as Bush and his allies once turned on McCain. Right down to the “push polls” that were used in 2000 so too have they resurfaced in 2016, this time with Trump directly accusing Cruz of using them.
What these primaries determine is whether the prospective nominee can take a punch — and dish one out at the same time.
Donald Trump — like Ronald Reagan before him — is the guy crashing the GOP Establishment party — the fraternal order. He knows exactly how they work — and filling an auditorium with wealthy special interest donors who will boo Trump on cue is the least of it.
It is time — past time — for the GOP once again to have a fighter who gives as good as he gets.
The bottom line? Donald Trump fights. And in being utterly unafraid to take on the Bush campaign apparatus that left John McCain both defeated, bitter, and angry in 2000 after South Carolina, Trump is drawing the Establishment’s wrath.
Good for him.
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