Trump’s Attacks on John McCain Denounced Universally by GOP Presidential Candidates

donald trump
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

After Donald Trump attacked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), saying that McCain was “not a war hero” and was only viewed as such “because he was captured” and held as a prisoner of war, the rest of the Republican presidential field was universally critical of his comments. No one defended him.

As Breitbart News reported, during his remarks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Trump said about McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain, a Navy pilot who volunteered for service during the Vietnam War, was brutally tortured during his five-and-a-half years as a POW. Trump avoided the war through a series of at least five deferments, four as a student and one medical deferment for a “bone spur” in his foot.

As Trump has risen in the polls over the past few weeks, he has presented a dilemma for his competition. The GOP field has taken different approaches to his previous inflammatory comments on immigration and border security, ranging from supportive to ignoring him, to directly criticizing him. In attacking McCain’s POW status, however, Trump seems to have finally crossed a line, and no one seems to be coming to his defense.

Some of the harshest criticisms came, unsurprisingly, from the leading Republicans who have served in the military, former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Perry, an Air Force veteran who has kept national security and veterans’ issues at the heart of his campaign messaging, sharply condemned Trump’s “disgraceful” comments, saying they “had reached a new low in American politics.” Perry tweeted a statement saying that Trump was “unfit to be Commander-in-Chief,” and should apologize to McCain and withdraw from the race, as Breitbart News reported.

Graham, a close friend of McCain’s, wrapped up a thirty-three year military career with the Air Force when he retired last month at the rank of Colonel. That included six years active duty as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, and then as a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserves. McCain, “like every other POW, went through hell & has earned our respect & gratitude,” Graham tweeted.

Trump’s “growing mountain of stupid statements” had “end[ed] all doubt” that he should not be the Republican standard bearer, continued Graham, who joined Perry in saying that Trump’s comments were “disqualifying” from serving as President.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has himself verbally sparred with McCain and was one of the candidates most publicly supportive of Trump, saying that he “saluted” him for speaking out on immigration, was not willing to defend him on Saturday. Cruz still did not attack Trump, but, in a clear reference to Trump’s comments, tweeted that he was “proud to serve alongside” McCain.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) likewise did not attack Trump but did not defend him either, tweeting that McCain was “an American hero, period.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted that even though he did not always “see eye to eye” with McCain, he still honored his service and sacrifices to America.

Another of Trump’s sharpest critics, former Gov. George Pataki (R-NY), called Trump’s remarks “idiotic,” and added to the calls for Trump to apologize.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) tweeted that Trump’s comments were “slanderous” and said that McCain, like all veterans, “particularly POWs,” deserved “respect and admiration.”

“America’s POWs deserve much better,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), than to have their service questioned by the “offensive rantings” of Trump.

According to a report by Politico, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) called McCain “an American hero” while speaking at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, and then told reporters that he “unequivocally denounce[d]” Trump. He later tweeted a similar comment.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) had a similar comment, tweeting that “Senator John McCain is an American hero. Period. Stop.”

“Every breath I breathe and every step I take is free because of brave Americans like John McCain,” tweeted former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), who also called McCain an American hero and added that our troops “should be treated with the utmost respect and admiration.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) also called McCain an American hero and then snarked that “[a]fter Donald Trump spends six years in a POW camp, he can weigh in on John McCain’s service.”

Republican voters “deserve better than outrageous comments and partisan attacks,” tweeted former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. McCain “served with honor and courage” and she was “proud” to call him a friend, she added.

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) called McCain a friend, and tweeted that it was “an insult to every veteran and POW/MIA to even try to debate his status as an American hero.”

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the least critical of Trump, saying that “everybody has their voice” and “we need to hear from everybody,” as Breitbart News reported, but even he would not defend Trump.

Even the Republican National Committee (RNC) weighed in on the controversy. “Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period. There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” said RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer in a statement released by the RNC and posted on the party’s official Twitter account.

Trump has declined to apologize or back down from his attacks on McCain. In a statement sent to reporters after the Ames event, Trump continued to slam McCain as “yet another all talk, no action politician” and bragged about his own applause after his speech.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.


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