“Don’t make things up, Jeb,” Donald Trump said dismissively to the former governor of Florida on the debate stage Wednesday, attempting to shoot down Jeb Bush’s contention that Trump had tried and failed to curry Bush’s favor when Trump was looking to manage lucrative casino operations on Native American lands in Florida.
Jeb said that no one could buy him, and that his refusal to open up Florida to gambling while he was governor, in spite of Trump giving him money, proved it.
“If I’d wanted it, I promise, I would’ve gotten it,” Trump countered.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the friction between Bush and Trump over gambling in the Sunshine State dates back to Bush’s first campaign for governor, when his father, George H.W. Bush, asked Trump to host a fundraiser for Jeb. Trump agreed, in what the Tampa Bay Times describes as a bid to get gambling, beyond bingo, established in Florida so Trump could manage it.
Bush, however, was strongly opposed to expansion of gaming, and after he took office as governor in 1999, Florida never eased its restrictions, preventing casinos on Native American land that Trump was pushing for, according to CNN’s thorough recap of the feud:
Bush maintained his hardline stance against gambling in the state, delivering a death blow to Trump’s hopes of building out a multi-million dollar casino endeavor with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and prompting him to abandon those plans.
“It certainly had a chilling effect,” Doug Guetzloe, a Florida political consultant who worked for the gaming giant Bally Entertainment in the ‘90s, said of Bush’s election. “Gov. Bush made it clear to everyone that he was not interested in having casinos in the state of Florida … the word definitely went through.”
CNN adds that Trump had brought in a former speaker of the state House and president of the Senate, Mallory Horne, to lobby for the casinos, but that Horne’s assessment of the project’s future was that it was essentially “dead” after Bush took office.
In addition to hosting the fundraiser, CNN reports, Trump also donated $50,000 to the Florida Republican Party (a sum that, to be fair, is just Trump Change to the real estate mogul). He claimed Wednesday that he wasn’t trying to get Jeb to cough up the casinos in return, but it’s undeniable that Trump had designs on building a gaming operation in Florida and that Jeb made sure it never came to pass.