Donald Trump has once again placed himself in the middle of a raging publicity storm, this time by making incredibly controversial statements regarding the war hero status of Arizona Senator John McCain. In his latest brush with controversy, Trump stated that McCain, who remained a prisoner of the Vietnam War in the Hanoi Hilton prison for more than five years, was only a “war hero because he was captured,” and that “[he] like[d] people that weren’t captured, OK?” In fairness, Trump did follow his comments with the statement that McCain was a war hero. GOP leadership hopes that Trump’s latest antics will turn voters against him and narrow the Republican presidential candidate field.
As one might expect, Trump’s comments drew numerous critical responses from both the Republican and Democratic parties. The Republican National Committee (“RNC”), which generally remains neutral during the GOP primary and very rarely comments on political debates, publicly condemned Trump’s remarks. RNC spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted that “[t]here is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, commented that Trump’s “shot” against a man who refused early release from a war prison because his comrades could not also be released “disqualified” the New York billionaire as potential President of the United States. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another Republican presidential hopeful who is not doing very well in the polls and desperately needs publicity, called for Trump to “immediately withdraw” from the 2016 presidential race. Left Wing Senator Elizabeth Warren called Trump a “blowhard.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz took a more neutral approach, stating that he “recognize[s] that folks in the press love to see Republican-on-Republican violence, and so [the press] want[s] [him] to say something bad about Donald Trump, or bad about John McCain or bad about anyone else. [He] isn’t going to do it.”
The quick and nearly unanimous criticism of Trump by the GOP was in stark contrast to its response to Trump’s earlier controversial comments regarding immigration. In that firestorm, Trump stated that some people illegally entering the United States from Mexico are “drug dealers,” “rapists,” and “criminals.” These comments seemed likely to alienate the increasingly influential Hispanic demographic which are crucial in general election swing states like Colorado, Florida and Nevada. However, GOP candidates did not take a clear stand against Trump’s immigration statements.
True to Trump form, rather than apologize or walk away, he doubled down by intensifying the controversy. He wrote an opinion piece in USA Today that admonished the media, McCain and the “establishment.” Trump wrote that “[t]he reality is that John McCain the politician has made America less safe, sent our brave soldiers into wrong-headed foreign adventures, covered up for President Obama with the VA scandal and has spent most of his time in the Senate pushing amnesty. He would rather protect the Iraqi border than Arizona’s.”
On Monday, a new Washington Post/ABC national poll reported that Trump continued to lead the Republican field by 24%. While many analysts believe that Trump does not have a chance to win the GOP presidential nomination, he most likely will not exit the race early.