Donald Trump delivered a ferocious putdown of George W. Bush from the debate stage, central to his effort to convince voters that they don’t want another Bush deciding when to take the country to war. But were his key facts right?
In short, he told it like it was, and like it wasn’t, in a multipronged indictment of the ex-president, laid out in front of a livid Jeb Bush, the Republican presidential candidate and former president’s younger brother.
A look at some of Trump’s claims, other assertions by Republican presidential hopefuls in the debate and how they stack up with the facts:
TRUMP: “I’m the only one on this stage that said: ‘Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq.’ Nobody else on this stage said that. And I said it loud and strong.”
THE FACTS: No record has been established that Trump issued a clarion call against the March 2003 invasion of Iraq before it happened. In his few unearthed comments before the invasion, he said the economy was a bigger problem than Iraq.
In the first week after the invasion, he told The Washington Post at a post-Oscars party that “the war’s a mess” and, “If they keep fighting it the way they did today, they’re going to have a real problem.” In another venue, he predicted stock market gains. He praised then-President George W. Bush before and after the war started. It was not until 2004 that he took a “loud and clear” line, asserting “all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong.”
To be sure, he was well ahead of Bush loyalists in making that harsh judgment. But it does not reflect the foresight he claims to have had before the war started and went downhill.
TRUMP: “They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none.”
THE FACTS: He is right that no weapons of mass destruction were found — undermining a central rationale for the invasion. Another rationale for the war, that Iraq had close ties with al-Qaida terrorists, also proved bogus.
TRUMP on trying to kill Osama bin Laden: “George Bush had the chance, also, and he didn’t listen to the advice of his CIA.”
THE FACTS: It’s true that the Bush administration received repeated warnings from the CIA and other elements of the intelligence apparatus that bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization was planning to attack in the U.S., and soon. Most famously, a top-secret document prepared by intelligence agencies, in early August 2001, came with the headline: Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.
It’s the subject of continuing — perhaps endless — debate whether such warnings were specific enough so that the U.S. could have headed off the attacks of that Sept. 11.
On other subjects in the debate:
TED CRUZ: “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.”
MARCO RUBIO: “It has been over 80 years since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.”
THE FACTS: Cruz is wrong. Rubio is in the ballpark.
Anthony Kennedy was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 3, 1988, in the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, by a 97-0 vote. That was a presidential election year.
Presidents don’t appoint justices to the high court; they nominate them for Senate confirmation. Kennedy was nominated in 1987 and confirmed the next year. That makes Rubio closer to correct.
Rubio and other Republicans argued that President Barack Obama, as a lame duck, should not fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia but leave it to the next president — which they hope will be one of them.
But the example of Kennedy, who is still on the court, shows that presidents in their last year aren’t always powerless in shaping the court — and not shy about trying.
TRUMP: “Iran has taken over Iraq.”
THE FACTS: That’s an over-the-top conclusion, tapping a real concern that Iran has too much influence.
Iraq is a sovereign nation with its own government, armed forces and right to act independently. Both the U.S. and Iran have great influence over the military struggle against the Islamic State group.
Iranian clout skyrocketed after U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011, but was countered in 2014 when the Islamic State militants destabilized the Iraqi military and took over about a third of the country. Since then, Iranian military advisers have been key in guiding Iraqi ground troops toward victory in cities like Tikrit and Jurf al-Sukhar, and Washington remains worried about the risk of Iran staging a de facto takeover.
CRUZ on a failed 2013 immigration overhaul: “I stood with (Sen.) Jeff Sessions and (Rep.) Steven King and the American people to defeat that amnesty plan. The question for anyone on illegal immigration is, where were you in that fight?”
RUBIO: “When that issue was being debated, Ted Cruz at a committee hearing very passionately said, ‘I want immigration reform to pass, I want people to be able to come out of the shadows.’ He proposed an amendment that would have legalized people here. … So he either wasn’t telling the truth then, or he isn’t telling the truth now.”
THE FACTS: Rubio’s account is mostly right. While Cruz has been against an explicit path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, he did introduce legislation in that 2013 bill that proposed eventual legal status for millions of people. He also publicly supported the legislation in the Senate and urged its passing.
He has since said his amendment was designed to help kill the broader bill. The immigration bill co-authored by Rubio failed to pass in the House.