Donald Trump, being Donald Trump, couldn’t restrain himself.
He has gone from holding President George W. Bush accountable for the attacks on September 11, 2001 — “The World Trade Center came down during his reign,” Trump said. “He was the president at the time, and you know, you could say the buck stops here.” – to saying he had “advance notice” of the attack. “They knew an attack was coming,” according to Trump.
On the first allegation, what Trump is saying about President Bush is what, in another era, he could have said about President Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor. Because something happens on president’s watch doesn’t necessarily mean the president is to blame. (See Lincoln, Civil War, for more.)
On the second charge, the CIA had been concerned about al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, but their intelligence pointed to an attack overseas. In addition, the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) George W. Bush received in August 2001 could not confirm any concrete plans when it came to bin Laden’s long-standing intent to strike America. Our intelligence agencies had not been able to corroborate some of the “more sensational threat reporting” that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft, according to the PDB. A report by a joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence panels found that, as this 2003 New York Times story put it, “the plot went undetected because of communications lapses between the F.B.I. and C.I.A.” – a structural defect that President Bush inherited when he took office in 2001 and corrected after the 9/11 attacks.
In a matter of days, then, Mr. Trump moved from repeating a left-wing talking point to getting very close to entering the fanatical world of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Which may be the world where Trump feels most at home.
I’ve written before that Mr. Trump is drawn to conspiracies. He believes, wholly against the evidence, that “massive vaccinations” cause autism (“the doctors lied”). He was also the most prominent person in America pushing the theory that President Obama — a “psycho!” and “maybe” a Muslim — might not be a natural-born American citizen. So it makes perfect sense that Trump would state that 9/11 was President Bush’s fault rather than, in response to it, President Bush’s finest hour.
The fact that Trump would wade into these fever swamps is predictable. What is a good deal more uncertain is if the erratic mind and boundless ignorance of Donald Trump prove to be appealing to a large number of Republican voters. It may; and if it does, and if Trump succeeds in winning the nomination, the Republican Party will suffer huge losses at the ballot box. I for one remain hopeful that prudence, reason, and sobriety will return. But in this wild and weird political year, it’s impossible to be sure. To put it another way: I know what I believe should happen; I also know I have no idea what will happen.