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Below is an excerpt from “Rock Bottom: A Brief History of the 2016 Presidential Campaign,” published by Yahoo University Press in 2022.
The storm over Trump’s comments about the Khan family raged on in the weeks after the Democratic convention. President Obama himself rebuked Republican leaders who sought to distance themselves from Trump’s rhetoric while continuing to support his candidacy.
“There has to be a point at which you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party,’” Obama said. “The fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.”
But despite isolated defections, the president’s words seemed only to harden the resolve of most Republican leaders. They stood by Trump through mounting controversies in the months that followed, even as it became clear that the party was headed for its worst electoral defeat in generations.
Included here are transcripts of some of Trump’s more incendiary comments during that fall campaign, along with the responses from some Republican leaders at the time.
“Sure, I got deferments. But — excuse me, Chuck, let me finish. Would you really want a president who was dumb enough to let himself get drafted? I mean, it wasn’t hard to get out of it, believe me. My doctor said I had a bump on my heel or something, I don’t know. I don’t even think he was a doctor, frankly. The government is just very, very stupid, OK? Which is why only I can fix it.” —“Meet the Press,” Aug. 28
House Speaker Paul Ryan: “Let me just be very clear about one thing, which is that we don’t think it’s dumb to wear the uniform of the United States armed forces. But the real issue here is that no one wants to be in a situation where we have to have a draft, period, and we believe that’s much more likely to happen if Hillary Clinton is elected president. Also, we urge all Americans to have their feet checked regularly by an actual doctor.”
“I know religion better than the pope, believe me! And Romans wouldn’t have crucified anybody on my watch! Weak! Sad!” —Twitter war with Pope Francis, Sept. 5
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Of course Donald didn’t mean the Savior was weak. His choice of words was unfortunate. I think the point Donald was trying to make is that religion has been under attack from liberal, activist judges from the beginning of time, really. You can draw a direct line from Pontius Pilate to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I believe Donald will protect our religious liberties, which is why I support him.”
“Look, all I’m saying, Anderson, is that this hajj, this pilgrimage, is happening right now, and we have not seen the president in public for a couple of days. Do I think Barack Obama is in Mecca running around in circles and planning a terrorist attack right now? I’m not saying I know that for a fact. But we have satellites. It’s something we should look at.” —CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, Sept. 9
Sen. Marco Rubio: “Every election is a choice, OK? Would I choose Donald Trump over myself? No, I obviously would not. Would I choose Trump over, say, John Hinckley? Yes, I would. Would I choose Trump in a three-way race with John Hinckley and Charles Manson? That’s a tougher one. Maybe I go with Manson. It depends on what the parole board says. But anyway, this election is a choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton, and I firmly believe endorsing Trump is critical to my future. So fine, if he insists Obama is a Muslim, let’s just go with that.”
“You want to see a wall that kept a lot of people safe? Go to Berlin! You see all the Muslims streaming in now? You think Putin doesn’t regret tearing down the wall? What kind of idiot gave the Russians that advice? I have German friends calling me up and begging me, ‘Donald, Donald, please, when you get done with your wall, come over here and rebuild ours!’ It’s sad, frankly.” —Speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Sept. 30
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus: “Who’s to say that if Ronald Reagan were alive today, he wouldn’t be the first one to demand the Russians ‘rebuild that wall’? I can’t know that. You can’t know that. The only person who would really know is Reagan, and he’s dead. So Donald Trump is the closest thing to Reagan that we have, really, and I continue to believe that he is our party’s nominee.”
“No, I did not call you the devil. What I said — excuse me, let me finish, Hillary — what I said is that Bernie made a deal with the devil, which in this case was you. Frankly, you can’t be the devil, because the devil is great, OK? The devil is in charge of all the suffering in hell, and that’s a position of serious leadership. That takes a winner. You might be some kind of minor demon or something.” —Second presidential debate, Oct. 9
House Speaker Paul Ryan: “Yeah, I saw it. No, the devil is not great. The devil is not a winner. What do you want me to say? I marched out there and I endorsed him, OK? There’s no backsies. I put the sticker on my car already. It’s not one of those magnet deals. It’s really on there. I’d have to repaint the entire bumper. This thing is happening, OK?”
“Happy holidays to my Jewish friends! If only the Book of Life sold as many copies as ‘Art of the Deal’! No. 1 bestseller! Keep trying!” —Yom Kippur tweet, Oct. 11
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Naturally I reject any comparison of Mr. Trump’s work with God’s own. I do appreciate that he doesn’t always bow to this rampant political correctness, but I also think there has to be a line, although I defend his right to say those things. So as I’ve said all along, I respect, renounce, support and disagree with Mr. Trump. That’s as clear as I can be.”
“Frankly, I never wanted the job anyway. Why would I say all this stuff if I wanted to be president? C’mon! This was so great for my family, it’s just amazing. Tiffany’s getting her own show. Barron’s YouTube channel is through the roof! He’s caught so many Pokémons traveling around, you wouldn’t believe. Just an amazing experience.” —Election eve news conference, Nov. 7
House Speaker Paul Ryan: “Oh, for the love of Christ! Seriously? This is why I spent the last six months not talking about poverty and tax reform? And the sticker is on there, man! I tried Goo Gone, the Magic Eraser, all of it! So yeah, I’m not happy. And yeah, I endorse him. What choice do you think I have now?”