A year ago Donald Trump got away with questioning the heroism of Senator John McCain, who as a young Navy fighter pilot was shot down over North Vietnam, tortured and held for five years in the infamous hellhole prison nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton.
Now it’s payback time.
McCain this morning lashed out at the GOP presidential nominee for his attack on the family of Army Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim killed in Iraq in 2004 as he sought to save his troops from a suicide bomber.
“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement,” the Arizona Republican said in a very personal statement. “I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”
Noting that McCains have served in the uniform of America for hundreds of years –both his father and grandfather were admirals – the senator said, “I claim no moral superiority over Donald Trump. [But]… I challenge the nominee to set the example for what our country can and should represent.”
Arizona is Trump country, or at least it was when he beat his nearest rival in the GOP primary there last March by more than 22 points. And McCain is in a tough re-election battle. So while it took a measure of courage to speak out, he’s not the only member of his party dismayed that Trump would pick a fight with the family of a dead soldier.
McCain’s close colleague and fellow vet, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said in a statement, "This is going to a place where we've never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen. There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics — that you don't do — like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you."
Related: Trump Lashes Out at DNC Critics -- Except for One
At the Democratic National Convention, Pakistani-born lawyer Khizr Kahn -- with his wife, Ghazala, silently at his side – invoked the memory of his son and mounted a forceful and emotional attack on Trump and his proposed plan to restrict Muslim immigration from certain countries.
Kahn said Trump had sacrificed nothing for America.
Trump responded in an interview on ABC’s This Week that aired yesterday, saying he had made plenty of sacrifices, worked very hard and created thousands of jobs. (Even before the controversy erupted, daughter Ivanka Trump spoke in a video at the Republican National Convention about the great sacrifice her Dad has made in stepping away from the business he has built to run for president.)
The implication that Trump’s “sacrifices” were somehow comparable to laying down your life for your country led to the inevitable #TrumpSacrifices on Twitter. One wag wrote: "After the bankruptcies, I had to make cutbacks, so I had my toilet plated in 14k gold instead of 24k. I know real hardship."
Meantime, the GOP leadership finds itself on a new Trump tightrope.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he rejects a “religious test” for immigrants and said Captain Kahn and other Muslim soldiers who died for America should be honored but did not criticize Trump directly.
And Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, tried to calm the waters while at the same time defending the plan to suspend immigration from countries that are hotbeds of radical Islamic terrorism.
Pence said he and Trump believe “Captain Humayun Khan is an American hero and his family, like all Gold Star families, should be cherished by every American."
But social media remains outraged.
Results on 30dB, a website that gauges social media sentiment -- and for which I consult -- showed an 86 percent negative reaction to Trump’s handling of the controversy on Saturday and Sunday. The results do not include social’s reaction to Captain Kahn’s family or his story.
And this afternoon, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) issued a statement saying: "Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression. There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed."
But Trump doesn’t seem to be sandpapering his words as he responds to a controversy that could be especially damaging to his candidacy.This morning at 6:10 (EST) he tweeted: “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same - Nice!”