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Rep. Peter King said Tuesday he now opposes Donald Trump after the billionaire New York developer blamed former President George W. Bush for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and charged that he lied to win support for the Iraq War.
King, who lives in Seaford and is the longest serving New York Republican in the House, said he had given Trump the benefit of the doubt and applauded him for mobilizing support and saying the country should reach for something greater.
But Trump’s attack on the former president at the Republican debate Saturday evening, and his repeat of it Monday, became the tipping point for King.
“He is not fit to be president — morally or intellectually,” King said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Trump’s charges so disturbed King that he sent out a statement in the middle of the night that praised the former president, who is campaigning in South Carolina for his brother Jeb Bush’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination, as “a vivid reminder of what real presidential leadership is all about.”
King added, “America needs a president with the strength and quiet dignity of George W. Bush not a feckless pretender like Donald Trump who has descended into a poor man’s imitation of Michael Moore.”
Moore is a critic of Bush who made a documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which maintained that Bush lied about Iraq.
King said Jeb Bush called to thank him Wednesday.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who said he has not made an endorsement, said it is “very helpful to voters to know whether or not a candidate would have approached Afghanistan or Iraq” the same way. But Zeldin took no position on the question.
King chided Trump last year for calling Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) “a loser” who is “not a war hero” and urging that all mosques be shut down, which King said abridged freedom of religion.
Yet just a month ago, King came to Trump’s defense when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attacked him for having “New York values,” which both Trump and King said shone most brightly in the response by New Yorkers to 9/11.
But that all changed after Trump’s attacks on the former president.
King berated Trump for his erratic defense policies — vowing “to bomb everybody” one day, and praising Russian President Vladimir Putin the next — and showing “a lack of judgment” about the intelligence that led to the Iraq War.
And King took a poke at Trump for talking about being “a tough guy” because he grew up in Queens.
“I grew up in Queens and no tough guy ever came out of Jamaica Estates,” said King.
King said he grew in Sunnyside and St. Albans, much tougher than the wealthier Jamaica Estates. “I know a guy whose brother went to the electric chair,” King said.
King acknowledged he now opposes both of the Republican front-runners, Trump and Cruz who King has long criticized for urging the government shutdown in 2013 that he said damaged the Republican Party.
King said he could support Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“Of the three I’ve always said Bush has the most experience to be president,” King said. “But they’re all normal guys. They are intelligent. None of the three would embarrass the party.”