NORTH CHARLESTON (South Carolina) • The Bush family, a dynasty that defined Republicanism for decades, has clashed with the new and irreverent face of the party, Mr Donald Trump, in one of the most vivid and powerful displays of force in the presidential primary campaign.
South Carolina Republicans vote in their primary this Saturday, and Mr Jeb Bush is badly trailing Mr Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz despite strong ties in the state with the Bush family.
So he brought his older brother, former president George W. Bush, to make a rare public appearance to vouch for his decency and judgment here in a race that has been driven in recent weeks by coarse language, anger and personal insults.
WAR OF WORDS
NOT SAFE FROM TERROR
What does that mean, he kept the country safe after 9/11?...The worst attack ever in this country? It was during his presidency.
REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP, criticising former US president George W. Bush's performance
A MISTAKE TO GET RID OF SADDAM
Now, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to become a terrorist? You go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein understood, and he killed terrorists.
MR DONALD TRUMP
WHAT AMERICANS DON'T NEED
I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration.
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
ENOUGH OF NAME-CALLING
There seems to be a lot of name-calling going on. Labels are for soup cans. The presidency is a serious job that requires sound judgment and good ideas.
MR GEORGE W. BUSH
But analysts are wondering whether the first appearance by Mr George W. Bush in support of his younger brother will improve his chances. "This was too little, too late," Time magazine quoted one Republican who has hosted fund-raisers for the Bush campaign as saying. "This should have happened three months ago," he said.
The former president's intervention in the campaign came hours after Mr Trump, who has been leading in polls, continued his assault on Mr George W. Bush, mocking his famous "Mission Accomplished" appearance during the Iraq War and pointedly saying the country was not "safe" during his tenure.
"What does that mean, he kept the country safe after 9/11?" Mr Trump asked, repeating a broadside - that the 43rd president was responsible for the terrorist attack of Sept 11, 2001 - that he had used in a Republican debate last Saturday.
Mr Trump continued: "The worst attack ever in this country? It was during his presidency."
At a news conference, he said bluntly that the US should not have got rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. "Now, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism. You want to become a terrorist? You go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein understood, and he killed terrorists."
Mr Trump's pointed critique of Mr George W. Bush's performance has startled some conservatives. Such attacks on the most recent Republican president are unheard of among the leading Republican candidates, and it is difficult to predict how they will affect Saturday's primary vote.
But Mr Trump's words seem to have affected the former president, who spent much of his 30-minute speech defending his administration and his personal response to the Sept 11 attacks.
"I understand that Americans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration," he told some 3,000 people in North Charleston.
"There seems to be a lot of name- calling going on. Labels are for soup cans. The presidency is a serious job that requires sound judgment and good ideas," he said.
Mr Jeb Bush and his older brother offered the waving, smiling feel of a reunion tour - both a look back to the elder Bush's administration, and a look ahead to why the younger brother is the right choice.
"I've seen Jeb in action. He'll be a strong and steady hand when confronted with the unexpected," Mr George W. Bush said of his brother.
Though the tone of the rally was serious and at times sombre, he also cracked jokes. Looking older - his hairline a bit farther back, his face longer - he seemed to relish his time before the friendly crowd.
The day seemed to crystallise how flummoxed the Republican establishment has become over Mr Trump and his unorthodox campaign. Mr Trump's wide-ranging comments pre-empted what would have been respectful footage of the 43rd president meeting veterans.
South Carolina is a crucial state for both Mr Jeb Bush and Mr Trump.
For Mr Trump, after finishing second in Iowa and first in New Hampshire, a victory here would provide a jolt of momentum towards the nomination and make it harder for his rivals to stop him.
NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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