Eliminating the Competition

“I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.” ~ John Cleese

“A lot of very successful businessmen share some of these sociopathic traits – a lack of empathy, seeing people as commodities, projecting an air of sincerity when everything is actually calculated.” ~ Oscar Isaac

And then there’s Donald Trump, but it’s not his fault. Success in the business world is most often a matter of eliminating the competition when you don’t have a particularly good product, or especially when you don’t have a particularly good product. That’s why Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world. It started with DOS, a clunky and crude operating system he purchased for a song, but managed to get IBM to install on the first desktops, an exclusive deal, and now has been superseded by successive versions of Windows on all desktops of that sort – the only operating system you can buy. Gates’ Microsoft purchased all the competitors that had better ideas and melded in what seemed useful, and imitated as much of the Apple stuff they could without being sued, and gave the world a bloated and buggy series of operating systems you had to use, because there was nothing else, unless you went with Apple – and no one in the business world was using Apple’s Macintosh products. They were cool, but the market had been closed long ago. It was the same with software. Lotus 1-2-3 was a cool spreadsheet package. Microsoft got manufacturers to bundle Excel – and curiously, Windows somehow might not run Lotus very well. It was the same with Microsoft Word, and with their internet browser, Explorer, also a slow bloated mess – but curiously, no other browser would work very well on Windows. Microsoft was sued repeatedly over that in Europe and elsewhere, and gave in. People use Google Chrome now – compact and fast with more features than Explorer – and thanks to those lawsuits it works just fine with Windows. But Windows is still there, with the monthly twenty or thirty security patches you’d better automatically install. They’re still working on it. They’re always working on it. But what are you going to do? Success in the business world is a matter of eliminating the competition when you don’t have a particularly good product. Microsoft is a success.

Donald Trump is also a success. In real estate there’s only so much land – they’re not making any more of it – and you may not have the best product – nothing Trump has built has won any awards – but if you can cleverly sidestep the zoning laws and make the right people happy, your absurd giant building will go up, not someone else’s better and more friendly one. That’s why half of Manhattan is perpetually pissed off at Donald Trump – one more massive black-glass tower just went up and no one seemed to have had a say. But what are you going to do? And now Microsoft is telling you you’d better install Windows 10 – older versions won’t be supported and nothing else is going to work for you one day soon. It’s the same business model. What you’ve got ain’t great. Eliminate the competition.

Will that work in politics? Donald Trump is the test case here, and he seems to have decided to use George Bush to eliminate Jeb Bush:

The controversy began Friday morning when Trump implied that the former president could share some blame for the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, as he was in office at the time.

“When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,” Trump said on Bloomberg TV.

Bloomberg anchor Stephanie Ruhle interjected, “Hold on, you can’t blame George Bush for that,” before Trump stood by his comments.

“He was president, okay? … Blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign,” Trump said.

Jeb Bush angrily responded Friday afternoon, calling the comment “pathetic.” … “We were attacked and my brother kept us safe,” he tweeted.

Trump had to tweet back – “At the debate you said your brother kept us safe – I wanted to be nice and did not mention the WTC came down during his watch, 9/11” – and “You’re pathetic for saying nothing happened during your brother’s term when the World Trade Center was attacked and came down.” And it was game on:

Bush’s White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, told CNN Friday that Trump sounds like a “truther,” slang for someone who believes the U.S. government was behind the attacks.

“When Donald Trump implies that since 9/11 took place on Bush’s watch he is partially responsible for it, he’s starting to sound like a truther,” he said. “And after all, does Donald Trump also think since Pearl Harbor happened on FDR’s watch that FDR is responsible?”

“I just think he belongs to an extraordinarily small faction of people who blame 9/11 on George Bush. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton was one of those people for short time,” he added.

Was that supposed to sting? But there was this:

Appearing in suburban Washington on Friday evening, Trump’s presidential rival Ben Carson distanced himself from Trump’s remark – though he said he hadn’t heard it. “I would be surprised if he blamed him for it. That wouldn’t make much sense, would it?” he said. “I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that he’s responsible for it.”

Trump may be out there alone, but this isn’t about him:

Trump has previously taken aim at Bush, calling his presidency a “disaster.” And he said last week that the decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001 was a “terrible mistake.”

“We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place,” Trump said. “It’s a mess, it’s a mess and at this point we probably have to (leave U.S. troops in Afghanistan) because that thing will collapse in about two seconds after they leave.”

Don’t think about him. Think about Bush’s brother and Bush defending his brother, but Friday’s interviewer did try to get Trump to somehow talk about himself, and he sort of did:

Trump’s comments to Bloomberg on Friday came in response to a question from Ruhle about his “soft hand.” She said the world had seen his strong side, but Bush after 9/11 and President Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook massacre both had to stand in front of America and show a different side of them.

“I need to know that you will make us feel safe and you will make us feel proud,” Ruhle said to Trump.

“I think I have a bigger heart than all of them. I think I’m much more competent than all of them,” Trump said, before getting into the criticism of Bush. …

“What we need is a leader. We don’t have a leader,” he added.

He said he has a bigger heart than all of them and he’s much more competent than all of them, but that was it – an assertion without any detail of what that might mean in any given circumstance. There were no examples. He had none. It didn’t matter. When what you’ve got ain’t great, eliminate the competition.

And this continued:

Bush also responded to the comments on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

“Does anybody actually blame my brother for the attacks on 9/11? If they do they’re totally marginalizing our society,” Bush said. “It’s what he did afterwards that matters. And I’m proud of him and so are a bunch of other people. You don’t have to have your last name be Bush to understand that.”

“Next week Mr. Trump is probably going to say that FDR was around when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,” Bush said.

Ah, the Bush folks coordinated their response, but this was awkward:

CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Bush on how he could blame President Obama and former secretary of state and now Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for the attack on the Benghazi compound if he believed his brother was not at all responsible for 9/11.

“Well, I – the question on Benghazi, which we will now finally get the truth to, is, was that – the place secure? They had a responsibility at the Department of State to have proper security.”

That was painful to watch, because George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice were warned of the coming attack and did nothing. What’s different? John Legum at ThinkProgress also offered a bit of snark – he tries to prove the theory that George W. Bush was in fact president on 9/11, and that he and Rice did in fact receive that memo indicating that Bin Laden planned to strike soon in the United States. He proves the theory. Jeb was having a bad day, except for this:

“Across the spectrum of foreign policy, Mr. Trump talks about things that as though he’s still on ‘The Apprentice.’ I mean literally talking about Syria saying ISIS should take out Assad then Russia should take out ISIS,” Bush said. “It’s though it was some kind of board game and not a serious approach. This is just another example of the lack of seriousness.”

He’s best when he doesn’t talk about his brother. On the other hand, David Atkins was having a problem with the Democrats on these matters:

The hullabaloo among Republicans over Trump’s pointing out the obvious provides a simple lesson for Democrats: there’s never a prize for playing “the adult in the room” and letting vicious political opponents get off with incompetence and malevolence scot free. If there’s a direct policy aim to be achieved by taking the highest road, then by all means that should be done. But if it’s simply done in order to play nice, it’s a mistake.

Trump did what the Democrats should have done long ago:

George W. Bush and his team were demonstrably too involved in playing a dangerous game of Risk with Russia and China and trying to reignite the Cold War to pay enough attention to the terrorist threat in the Middle East. The country paid the price for that. Then the Bush Administration waged a vicious campaign of lies to con the country into supporting an invasion of Iraq long before even the war (much less the peace) had been won in Afghanistan, and after allowing both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar to slip outside their grasp. A war that should have been a police action designed to catch two murderous criminals and their associates, turned into two slogging wars that failed to catch either one – until a Democratic president finally took out the head honcho far later in Pakistan.

The Bush Administration should never have been let off the hook for that from day one. Certainly the country should have been given space from partisanship for a few weeks or months after the attack, but the relevant and appropriate questions should have been asked by a minority party actually doing its job. Nor should the Democratic Party or the press have been allowed to be lied into the Iraq War…

That Donald Trump is the highest-profile person to make the case against George W. Bush’s failure to protect the country demonstrates the political malpractice of the Democrats of the previous decade – even my hero Howard Dean, who went far but not even far enough at the time.

J. Bradford DeLong, however, is simply mad at Jeb’s words about his brother being the good guy:

There is no honor or pride in what George W. Bush did after 9/11.

George W. Bush took his eye off the ball. Letting Osama bin-Laden escape from Tora Bora, claiming that catching and punishing Osama bin-Laden and Al Qaeda wasn’t the top priority, neglecting the task of protecting us against people who had attacked us to go and attack people who had not–and to waste 40000 American lives Breaking Iraq, taking a bad situation and making it much worse…

There is no honor or pride in that.

There is no honor or pride in what George W. Bush did before 9/11.

Bill Clinton had a pretty good anti-terrorism policy framework – a NSC cabinet-level focus on counter-terrorism, managed by Richard Clarke. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle, and company told Bush that was a mistake. And Bush believed them rather than Tenet. Hence the bureaucracy was told throughout the first three-quarters of 2001 to focus on threats from state actors like Iraq and China, not on non-state actors like Al Qaeda.

If Bush had had half a brain or half a gut, he would have fired more than half of his NSC principals after 9/11: they had made a big call to change Clinton administration priorities, and that call had been wrong.

There is no honor or pride in what George W. Bush did before 9/11, or in how he failed to deal with his NSC-principals team in its aftermath.

All that may be true, but does that mean that Donald Trump should be president? Donald Trump thinks so. He thinks like a businessman, but Ezra Klein returns to the substance of this:

Over the past week, Trump and Bush have been in an argument that basically boils down to the question of was George W. Bush president on 9/11/2001?

Trump insists that Bush was president both prior to and during the 9/11 attacks, and he was therefore at least partly responsible for the security failures that permitted the tragedy. And to Trump’s credit, there is considerable evidence that George W. Bush was president on 9/11/2001.

Jeb Bush’s position is harder to parse: he argues that his brother was only responsible for what happened after 9/11, suggesting, perhaps, that someone else bore the responsibilities of the presidency on 9/11/2001. Or, to be a bit kinder to his position, he argues that the measure of as president isn’t whether something like 9/11 happens, but whether it happens again.

Perhaps the first three thousand deaths don’t matter. No, that can’t be it, but something is odd here, and that’s the whole point:

Trump has a bully’s instinct for finding someone else’s true weaknesses. His continued crack that Bush is a “low-energy” candidate is devastating precisely because it identifies a weakness not just in Bush’s campaign style, but in the nature of his campaign.

Now Trump has pulled Bush into an even more dangerous quagmire: his brother’s presidency. Trump is reminding every Republican voter that nominating Jeb Bush will mean running a general election campaign with two disadvantages. First, Republicans will have to answer for George W. Bush’s failures in a way they wouldn’t if they nominated Marco Rubio or Carly Fiorina or Donald Trump, and second, they’ll need to somehow explain why they’re holding Hillary Clinton responsible for Obama’s presidency even as they don’t hold George W. Bush responsible for George W. Bush’s presidency.

And Trump, having realized how weak Bush is on this issue, isn’t stopping. He’s moved from 9/11 to the Iraq War: “Jeb, why did your brother attack and destabilize the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction? Bad info?”

Everyone on the left has been asking that for a decade. Donald Trump is channeling Michael Moore, or he’s secretly Rachel Maddow. No one has ever seen the two of them together, right? But Kevin Drum adds some sense here:

As I recall, liberals spent a lot of time in the mid-aughts trying to make the case that George Bush was negligent in protecting the country before the 9/11 attacks – Exhibit A being the infamous Presidential Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.” You’d think that would be pretty devastating, but it had its 15 minutes of fame and then faded out even among lefties. I doubt it will have any greater effect now, especially in a Republican primary.

What it will do, unfortunately, is almost guarantee that it comes up as a question in the next Republican debate. Debate moderators seem to be wholly unable to ignore juicy Trump bait like this. That’s too bad. I don’t really care about re-litigating George Bush’s negligence prior to 9/11, but I do care about letting Trump set the terms of the campaign. Enough!

Drum would rather consider Trump’s other question for Jeb, about why did his brother attack and destabilize the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction:

This is not interesting because of what it says about George Bush – I think we already know that – but because it gives us another chance to harass Trump for lying about his opposition to the war during the second GOP debate:

“I am the only person on this dais that fought very, very hard against us – and I wasn’t a sitting politician – going into Iraq. Because I said going into Iraq – that was in 2003, you can check it out, check out – I’ll give you 25 different stories. In fact, a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it. I’m a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military. I’m the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq.”

This is bullshit:

So far, no one has managed to find even the slightest record of Trump opposing the Iraq War before it started. The closest he came was a breezy comment at the Vanity Fair post-Oscar party, three days after the war started. During the day CNN had been reporting nonstop about the battle of Nasiriya, in which 11 Americans were killed and six captured – including Jessica Lynch. It was the first serious fighting of the war, and apparently it was enough to inspire a classic Trump complaint about the incompetent losers running the invasion. “The war’s a mess,” he declared to an entertainment reporter, and then swept away.

There’s zero evidence that he opposed the war before it started and zero evidence that he opposed it during its first year. It wasn’t until November 2004 – nearly two years after the war started – that he finally spoke up. “I do not believe that we made the right decision going into Iraq, but, you know, hopefully, we’ll be getting out,” he said on Larry King Live. That was after Fallujah, after Abu Ghraib, and after the growth of the insurgency in Sadr City and Basra. Trump hardly gets any brownie points for turning against the war at that point.

It may be time to get Trump to actually talk about himself for a change:

That would be a good question to ask Trump at the debate later this month. Where are those 25 stories about how he “fought against going into Iraq”? Where’s even one? Maybe a personal diary? Trump is not a shy man, and it’s hard to believe that he felt so strongly about this but never said anything for two long years. As I recall, there were plenty of opportunities, including one just a few a blocks from his office. Let’s ask him about this.

That would force him from trying to eliminate the competition rather than revealing his own shoddy product, which seems to be this:

Donald Trump says that if he had been president in 2001, his immigration policies would have kept terrorists from attacking the World Trade Center on September 11.

“I am extremely, extremely tough on illegal immigration. I’m extremely tough on people coming into this country,” Trump said on Fox News Sunday. “I believe that if I were running things, I doubt those families would have – I doubt that those people would have been in the country.”…

And had his immigration proposals been in place at the time, Trump said, “There’s a good chance that those people would not have been in our country.”

Who in their right mind believes that? Jeb states the obvious:

For his part, Bush hasn’t appreciated the constant barrage of 9/11 remarks against his brother.

“I don’t know why he keeps bringing this up,” Bush told CNN Sunday. “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.”

Yeah, but Jeb, he’s not you, or your brother. That’s all he needs to prove at the moment, but of course someone else is thinking just like him:

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Sunday that he thought GOP rival Donald Trump’s campaign had actually benefitted his own.

“I think Donald’s campaign has been immensely beneficial for our campaign,” Cruz said. “And, and the reason is he’s framed the central issue of this Republican primary as who will stand up to Washington? Well, the natural follow up if that’s the question is who actually has stood up to Washington? Who has stood up to both Democrats and to leaders in their own party?”

That would be him. Cruz and his backers are just biding their time until Trump flames out, at which point he’ll be the logical anti-establishment candidate, even if he is a jerk. Everyone hates this guy, but what are you going to do? Success really is a matter of eliminating the competition when you don’t have a particularly good product, or especially when you don’t have a particularly good product. The Republican Party is the party of big business. They know these things. They’ll sell you anything.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Donald Trump, The Bush Legacy, Using 9/11 Against Jeb and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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