LAS VEGAS, Nevada — 2016 GOP frontrunner Donald Trump told Breitbart News exclusively that he would have done the exact same thing as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the latest GOP debate—fight with Trump—because he’s losing so badly.
“I think he did the right thing,” Trump said in an exclusive interview in the spin room at the Venetian Resort and Casino here post-debate when asked what he thought of Bush’s renewed targeting of him. “He’s getting clobbered in the polls. He’s trying to save his campaign. I think he did the right thing. And I would have done the exact same thing.”
During the debate, of course, Bush unleashed the most vicious attacks he’s made yet on Trump—calling the frontrunner a “chaos candidate.”
“Donald, you know, is great at — at the one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president. He would not be the commander in chief we need to keep our country safe,” Bush replied when asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer to explain why he thinks Trump is “unhinged.”
In response, Trump fired back on the stage that Bush is slipping on the campaign trail—and doesn’t really believe that he’s “unhinged,” but made the attack just to try to stay alive. Trump went on:
Jeb doesn’t really believe I’m unhinged. He said that very simply because he has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster. Nobody cares. And frankly, I’m the most solid person up here. I built a tremendous company and all I want to do is make America great again. I don’t want our country to be taken away from us, and that’s what’s happening. The policies that we’ve suffered under other presidents have been a disaster for our country. We want to make America great again. And Jeb, in all fairness, he doesn’t believe that.
Later, in response to a videotaped question from an Iowa college student about Trump’s vow to target family members of Islamic State members—and whether that would be humane, even though family members haven’t done anything wrong themselves—Trump laid out his plan to get “much tougher” with ISIS. He said:
We have to be much tougher. We have to be much stronger than we’ve been. We have people that know what is going on. You take a look at just the attack in California the other day. There were numerous people, including the mother, that knew what was going on. They saw a pipe bomb sitting all over the floor. They saw ammunition all over the place. They knew exactly what was going on. When you had the World Trade Center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia. They knew what was going on. They went home and they wanted to watch their boyfriends on television. I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.
At that point, Bush interjected by attacking Trump again:
This is another example of the lack of seriousness. Look, this is — this is troubling because we’re at war. They’ve declared war on us and we need to have a serious strategy to destroy ISIS. But the idea that that is a solution to this is just — is just crazy. It makes no sense to suggest this. Look, two months ago Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight. Just two months ago he said that Hillary Clinton would be a great negotiator with Iran. And he gets his foreign policy experience from the shows. That is not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through. That can lead our country to safety and security.
In response, Trump crushed Bush with kindness.
“Look, the problem is we need toughness,” Trump replied. “Honestly, I think Jeb is a very nice person. He’s a very nice person. But we need tough people. We need toughness. We need intelligence and we need tough. Jeb said when they come across the southern border they come as an act of love.”
“You said on September 30th that ISIS was not a factor,” Bush cut across him.
At that point, Trump got testy with Bush in the way that’s become memorable on the campaign trail.
“Am I talking or are you talking, Jeb?” Trump said.
“I’m talking right now. I’m talking,” Bush replied.
“You can go back. You’re not talking. You interrupted me,” Trump said in response.
“September 30th you said,” Bush started, before Trump cut him off again.
“Are you going to apologize, Jeb? No. Am I allowed to finish?” Trump mocked Bush further.
At that point, moderator Blitzer intervened and handed the time back to Trump to finish his point.
As Trump began his answer, Bush commented that his interruptions were “a little of your own medicine there, Donald.”
“Governor Bush, please,” Blitzer admonished the former Florida governor, before Trump finished his answer.
“I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well,” Trump crushed him, to laughter from the audience, before Trump finished his answer.
“Look, look, look. We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore,” Trump said. “We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate. We can’t allow that to happen. We need strength. We don’t have it. When Jeb comes out and he talks about the border, and I saw it and I was witness to it, and so was everyone else, and I was standing there, “they come across as an act of love,” he’s saying the same thing right now with radical Islam. And we can’t have that in our country. It just won’t work. We need strength.”
In his rebuttal, Bush accused Trump of aiming to “insult” his way to winning the election—and said he wouldn’t be able to do that. Bush said:
Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen. And I do have the strength. Leadership, leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people. Leadership is about creating a serious strategy to deal with the threat of our time. And I laid out that strategy before the attacks in Paris and before the attacks in San Bernardino. And it is the way forward. We need to increase our military spending. We need to deal with a no- fly zone in Syria, a safe zone. We need to focus on building a military that is second-to-none so that we can destroy Islamic terrorism.
Before the segment was over, Trump threw in one last jab at Bush.
“With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again, that I can tell you. We will never be great again,” Trump said.
Post-debate polling seems to have proven Trump right yet again, and Bush wrong, as it shows Bush still in a tailspin with Trump at new highs in early states and nationally.
A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday—the first poll from the network hosting the debate since the debate—shows Trump with 39 percent nationally, more than double his second-place challenger Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has 18 percent. Bush scored with just three percent in this poll, behind Trump, Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
In the Reuters tracking poll out on Tuesday, Trump tops the field again with 36.7 percent. That’s more than his next three challengers—Carson in second with 11.3 percent, Cruz in third with 11 percent, and Rubio in fourth with 8.3 percent—combined. Bush is in fifth place with a measly 6.7 percent. Pretty much every other poll post-debate shows Trump in complete dominance of the GOP field, facing competition only from Cruz in some places.
Trump, in his post-debate interview with Breitbart News, reveled in the fact that he’s the runaway polling leader.
“I’m honored by what’s happened,” Trump said, after stopping mid-question to give this reporter a completely unexpected and unprompted high-five.
“We have some amazing polls, and so I’m really honored by it,” Trump said.
What’s interesting is that the media has been dying for a Trump-Cruz battle, but they haven’t gotten one yet—and it’s unclear if they ever will.
When co-moderator Dana Bash attempted to drag Cruz into a fight with Trump near the end of the debate, Cruz demurred—to the dismay of many in the media who want them to attack each other.
“Senator Cruz, you have not been willing to attack Mr. Trump in public,” Bash began her question before Trump interrupted with a joke and she continued: “But you did question his judgment in having control of American’s nuclear arsenal during a private meeting with supporters. Why are you willing to say things about him in private and not in public?”
Cruz replied by noting that what he has said in private is exactly what he says in public—there’s no difference. Cruz said:
What I said in private is exactly what I’ll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander in chief. That is the most important decision for the voters to make. That’s a standard I’m held to. And it’s a standard everyone else is held to.
And I will note, you know, in the whole course of this discussion about our foreign policy threats, it actually illustrates the need for clarity of focus. You know, my daughters, Caroline and Catherine, came tonight. They’re 7 and 5. And you think about the Los Angeles schools canceling their schools today. And every parent is wondering, how do we keep our kids safe? We need a commander in chief who does what Ronald Reagan did with communism, which is he set out a global strategy to defeat Soviet communism. And he directed all of his—
After some crosstalk, Cruz finished his answer.
“He directed all of his forces to defeating communism,” Cruz said. “One of the things we’ve seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won’t even call it by its name. We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.”
Right before Bash tried to loop Cruz into a battle with Trump, she tried—and failed—to get Trump to fight with Cruz.
“Mr. Trump, just this weekend you said Senator Cruz is not qualified to be president because he doesn’t have the right temperament and acted like a maniac when he arrived in the Senate. But last month you said you were open to naming Senator Cruz as your running mate,” Bash asked Trump.
“I did,” he answered flatly.
“So why would you be willing to put somebody who’s a maniac one heartbeat away from the presidency?” Bash pressed further.
“Let me just say that I have gotten to know him over the last three or four days,” Trump replied. “He has a wonderful temperament.”
After audience laughter, Trump implored again about Cruz: “He’s just fine. Don’t worry about it.”
When asked about the Cruz dynamic in his interview with Breitbart News post-debate here in the spin room, Trump said he thinks the mainstream media—and even the debate moderators—are looking to pick a fight between Trump and Cruz. Trump also said he believes the Cruz versus Rubio battles—which centered on immigration and national security—were “interesting.”
“They were really going at it,” Trump said of Cruz and Rubio. “I thought Ted was very nice to me. He pulled back totally. And I respect that. He was very nice—but they [Cruz and Rubio] were going at it.”
Trump specifically thinks the mainstream media and the moderators were trying to stoke a fight between him and Cruz, and were disappointed when none materialized.
“I think they were,” Trump said, when asked if the media was stoking flames for a non-existent battle. “And I think it was enough. I got to watch the first debate, and I mean the first many questions were ‘Donald Trump said this, Donald Trump said that.’ My wife said to me, ‘That’s unfair.’ So when they started doing it during our debate, I did speak up.”