Donald Trump’s history of using of eminent domain to seize private property for various development projects came under fire during Saturday’s Republican presidential debate. After the moderators asked the New York billionaire about the topic, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush jumped in hard, slamming Trump with details about his use of the rule.
Eminent domain is supposed to allow the government to seize private property in disrepair to make way for public development projects such as highways or schools, but Bush contended that Trump once tried to take property from a widow in Atlantic City. “What Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to take property from an elderly woman in Atlantic City,” Bush said, arguing more energetically than he has in many of his debate performances. Creating “a parking lot for his casinos is not public use,” Bush added.
Trump did talk to a woman in Atlantic City about her property, but he clarified that he did not ultimately take her property. "I didn't take the property," Trump said. "The woman ultimately didn't want to do that."
Trump hit back at Bush, arguing that there would be no factories or roads without eminent domain. He also said that the Keystone XL pipeline, which Bush supports, had used eminent domain, and that it would not exist without the policy.
“Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country,” Trump said.
The crowd did not appear to be feeling his response, however. Many boos rose up as Trump tried to argue his case, and he angrily told the crowd that Bush was just trying to look tough. “He wants to be a tough guy,” Trump said.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has also previously criticized Trump over his use of eminent domain, and he brought up the topic when asked about his accomplishments Saturday night. He said he was proud of protecting the people of Florida from eminent domain abuse and his work to reform the Veterans Administration.
After a surprisingly strong third place finish in the Iowa caucuses Monday, Rubio has been gaining support from establishment Republicans over the past week and becoming more of a target. Before Saturday’s debate, Rubio stood in second place in New Hampshire coming in behind only Trump who has led the GOP field in nearly every poll for months. Trump had 30.7 percent in New Hampshire, while Rubio held an average of 16.4 percent, according to Real Clear Politics, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently dropped to third place with an average of 12 percent support.
With the New Hampshire primary election just days away, all of the candidates were trying to use Saturday night’s debate to show voters that they could be the top candidate. New Hampshire will be particularly important for the establishment candidates like Bush, as he has pinned his hopes on a successful showing in the Granite State.
Bush and New Jersey Gov. Christie had already ramped up their criticisms of Rubio on the campaign trail last week, with Christie calling him “the boy in the bubble” and Bush disparaging his accomplishments. The attack on Trump Saturday night was a standout moment for Bush, who has been trying to ramp up his debate performance in the 2016 campaign cycle.