Trump's attacks on McCain war record decried by Republicans

Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter
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Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday. (Photo: Nati Harnik/AP)

Republican candidates fired back at Donald Trump Saturday after the real estate billionaire-turned-presidential hopeful disparaged Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., military record during an appearance at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said of McCain, a Vietnam War veteran who was held captive and tortured for more than five years at one of North Vietnam’s most notorious prisons. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

During a press conference following his appearance at the annual conservative gathering, Trump clarified that his comments weren’t meant as an attack on all prisoners of war, just McCain.

“If a person is captured, they’re a hero as far as I’m concerned,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t like the job John McCain is doing in the Senate because he’s not taking care of our veterans.” 

He elaborated in an emailed statement released by his campaign’s press office shortly thereafter, writing:

“I am not a fan [of] John McCain because he has done so little for our Veterans and he should know better than anybody what the Veterans need, especially in regards to the VA. He is yet another all talk, no action politician who spends too much time on television and not enough time doing his job and helping the Vets. He is also allowing our military to decrease substantially in size and strength, something which should never be allowed to happen.”

Not only that, the statement continued, McCain was “extremely disrespectful to the thousands upon thousands of people, many of whom happen to be his constituents, that came to listen to me speak about illegal immigration in Phoenix last week by calling them ‘crazies.’”

“Crazies” was, in fact, a term McCain used in response to Trump’s Phoenix rally, during which the Republican presidential contender invited a man whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant to join him on stage, doubling down on the crusade against illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico, that Trump has been carrying on for weeks.

“It’s very bad,” McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and longtime proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, told the New Yorker of Trump’s rally. “This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me. Because what he did was fire up the crazies.” 

“These were not ‘crazies’ — these were great American citizens,” Trump fired back in his statement Saturday, which included a line at the end noting that Trump left his appearance at the Family Leadership Summit “to a long-lasting standing ovation, which will be by far the biggest ovation of the weekend, and much congratulatory praise.”

The first month of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has been marked by a stream of unfiltered and, by many accounts, offensive statements regarding illegal immigration, beginning with the claim that Mexico is sending its drugs, criminals and rapists over the border to the U.S.

Despite drawing criticism from fellow candidates and elected officials on both sides of the political spectrum, Trump’s campaign also clearly resonated with some voters, with a recent national Fox News Poll showing the billionaire taking the lead over fellow GOP candidates. 

While the backlash against Trump within the Republican primary pool had largely centered on his inflammatory remarks rather than the candidate himself, his attack on McCain struck a nerve and prompted an outpouring of personal rebukes.

In a statement, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry called on Trump to “apologize immediately for attacking Senator McCain and all veterans who have protected and served our country.”

“As a veteran and an American, I respect Sen. McCain because he volunteered to serve his country,” the former Texas governor stated. “I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump. His comments have reached a new low in American politics. His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President.”

Fellow Republican candidates Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took to Twitter to denounce Trump and defend McCain.

As did 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Trump’s comments even prompted a response from the Republican National Committee.

“Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period,” read the statement released by RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

It wasn’t the first time during his campaign that Trump has gotten a rise out of the RNC. Chairman Reince Priebus reportedly called the candidate earlier this month to request that he temper his immigration language for fear of alienating a crucial voter demographic. His refusal to heed Priebus’s request, however, suggests that Trump isn’t really concerned with what the rest of his party thinks and has no intention of standing down.