Donald Trump keeps finding new ways to test every rule that exists in United States presidential politics. Such as: When you go to South Carolina for the South Carolina Republican primary, don’t criticize robust military action, don’t criticize that state’s senior senator, and don’t criticize the former president who won South Carolina in 2000 and remains extremely popular there and whose brother is running against you. Don’t blame George W. Bush for 9/11 in a South Carolina primary!
Bless Donald Trump, for he did each of these things in Saturday night’s South Carolina debate and was booed heavily—almost without interruption—for minutes.
Trump and Bush tangled early when Bush said it would be “ludicrous” to treat Russia as a partner in the fight against ISIS. “Jeb is so wrong,” Trump said, earning the first boos, after which he said that all of Bush’s fans in the audience were lobbyists. Trump criticized the saber-rattling of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who Trump correctly noted “had zero in his polls” and is now a Bush backer.*
Soon thereafter Slate columnist John Dickerson, the debate moderator, asked Trump about his 2008 comments that George W. Bush should have been impeached. Trump dodged the impeachment question and instead reiterated how disastrous the Iraq War was and how poorly Jeb Bush addressed it near the beginning of his campaign last year.
Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, All right. Now, you can take it any way you want, and it took—it took Jeb Bush—if you remember at the beginning of his announcement, when he announced for president, it took him five days. He went back, “it was a mistake, it wasn’t a mistake.” It took him five days before his people told him what to say, and he ultimately said, “It was a mistake.” The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives… Iran has taken over Iraq with the second largest oil reserves in the world. Obviously, it was a mistake. George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty.
Most amazingly of all, Trump said that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—“They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction”—and was powerfully booed. Then he went on to blame George W. Bush for 9/11.
As with about two dozen other times this cycle, this would seem to be one of those moments that ends Trump’s campaign. These are not things—even if some of them are true!—that you say among South Carolina Republicans.
So he’ll probably break 50 percent in South Carolina now.
*Correction, Feb. 13, 2016: This post originally misspelled Lindsey Graham’s first name.