GOP Presidential Field Split Apart By 9/11

Ben Carson had a plan for stopping the war in Afghanistan, and Donald Trump thinks he could have prevented 9/11.
Republican presidential candidates are divided on 9/11.
Republican presidential candidates are divided on 9/11.

WASHINGTON -- Fourteen years later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks have become a major issue in the GOP presidential race, dividing the candidates on who was responsible and what should have been done.

On Sunday, Donald Trump continued to hammer former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for repeatedly saying that his brother, former President George W. Bush, "kept us safe." 

"Jeb said, 'We were safe with my brother. We were safe.' Well, the World Trade Center just fell down," Trump said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "Now, am I trying to blame him? I'm not blaming anybody. But the World Trade Center came down. When he said we were safe, that's not safe. We lost 3,000 people. It was one of the greatest -- probably the greatest catastrophe in this country."

When Bush allies talk about the former president's national security legacy, they tend to stress what happened after 9/11, even though the terrorist attacks also happened during his presidency.

"As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe," Jeb Bush said during last month's debate. "I don't know if you remember, Donald -- you remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around him? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe."

Others have pointed out that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the response to Hurricane Katrina, also did not keep the country safe. 

Bush reiterated his defense Sunday morning during an interview with CNN's "State of the Union."

"I don't know why he keeps bringing this up," Bush said, referring to Trump. "It doesn't show that he's a serious person as it relates to being commander in chief and being the architect of a foreign policy."

"I mean, so next week, Mr. Trump is probably going to say that FDR was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It's what you do after that matters," he added. "And that's the sign of leadership. You don't have to have your last name named Bush to be able to understand that."

Trump also implied Sunday that if he had been president in 2001, the 9/11 attacks may not have even happened because he would have been tougher on "illegal immigration."

"So there's a good chance that those people would not have been in our country," Trump said, reiterating that he wasn't blaming former President Bush for the attacks.

Jeb Bush's presidential campaign is now fundraising off of Trump's comments.

Ben Carson declined to jump into the debate on whether Bush is to blame for 9/11 during an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," but he said he did not think going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan was a good idea. Carson repeated his belief that if former President Bush had just declared the United States to be energy independent, the war in Afghanistan would have been unnecessary.

"So you're standing by the statement that had President Bush simply declared energy independence back after 9/11, that would have caused the moderate Arab governments to turn over Osama bin Laden?" host George Stephanopoulos asked. 

"I think [Afghanistan] would have been extremely concerned about what the ramifications of that would have been. And I believe they would have been considerably more cooperative," Carson said.

More from that exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: How would they have gotten him out of the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan?


CARSON: I think they would have known where he was. You know, there were indications, for instance, during the Clinton administration that -- that they knew exactly where he was but didn't necessarily pull the trigger. If -- if we could tell where he was, I'm certain that they knew where he was.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But at that point, we had some idea but we didn't know for sure. I simply don't understand how you think this would have worked.


CARSON: Well -- well, here's the point -- here -- here's my point. My point is, we have -- we had other ways that we could have done things. I personally don't believe that invading Iraq was an existential threat to us. I don't think Saddam Hussein was an existential threat to us. It's a very different situation right now. Now, we have global jihadists who want to destroy us and our way of life.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir, I wasn't ...


CARSON: And that is a completely different situation.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I wasn't asking about invading Iraq, I was asking about invading Afghanistan, which had been harboring Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, nearly all the GOP presidential candidates are unable to decide if they support new legislation to aid Sept. 11 responders.

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