Donald Trump was interviewed by ABC’s Martha Raddatz and, to absolutely no one’s surprise, refused to apologize for remarks he made the day before suggesting that POWs were not war heroes.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump, a Republican running for president, said of McCain. “I like people that weren’t captured. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Much to The Donald’s delight, I’m sure, other GOP candidates almost had apoplexy condemning him for his remarks and calling for him to leave the race. Rick Perry:
“His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President,” Perry said in a statement.
Marco Rubio said basically the same thing:
“He’s saying that somehow if you’re captured in battle you’re less worthy of honors,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “It’s not just absurd, it’s offensive. It’s ridiculous. And I do think it’s a disqualifier as commander in chief.”
He also said as the campaign goes on and Trump commands attention, “it’s required people to be more forceful in some of these offensive things that he is saying.”
Rubio assumes that Trump will shoot off his mouth again at some point during the campaign. He’s absolutely right. In fact, Trump’s entire campaign is based on “commanding attention,” not necessarily winning the nomination.
Trump’s appeal in the 2016 race appears to be built on saying things and acting in ways that other politicians would never dream of doing. Trump, to his credit, appears to grasp that fact.
“I will say what I want to say, and maybe that’s why I’m leading in the polls because people are tired of hearing politicians and pollsters telling the politicians exactly what to say,” Trump told Raddatz.
The fact is that apologizing after a comment judged as ill-advised (at best) by most politicians is exact opposite of the Trump brand. The sort of people who misspeak and then try to clean up their messes are the very people that Trump derides — and that he believes the public can’t stand either.
He can get away with that as long as he’s bashing Mexicans. But insulting POWs? We’ll see.
The reaction of Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, doesn’t bode well for Trump’s future prospects:
“What a dumb thing to say–to steal a favorite phrase from Mr. Trump. It’s certainly painfully ironic that a guy with four student deferments during Vietnam would say such outrageous things about a legitimate war hero. It boggles the mind and is the height of arrogance.
“Mr. Trump’s popularity has been tied to his ability to say what people are thinking and feeling; tapping into the near-universal concern about the direction of our country. In this case — he said the opposite of what people, especially conservatives, think. John McCain is a war hero, plain and simple. Moreover, he has taken the lead — for years — in trying to give veterans real health care choices and holding the VA accountability. Trump’s assertion that McCain has ‘done very little for veterans’ is patently false, ill-informed and unhelpful in every way.”
At a press conference after the event. Trump tried to convince people that he didn’t say what he actually said.
At a testy press conference after his performance, and as the real-time scorn for his comments dominated Twitter, Trump doubled-down. He pretended that his criticism came because McCain “has not done enough for veterans in this country…I see the veterans. I’m with the veterans all the time. Some of these people wait four or five days just to see a doctor.”
Of course, if Trump had even passing knowledge of the current controversy over care for U.S. veterans, he would understand that some veterans wait literally months before seeing a doctor – not just four or five days. But fact-checking Donald Trump is like picking up after a dog with diarrhea; there’s just not much point.
I asked Trump if he was blaming John McCain for his capture, as his comments implied. “I am saying John McCain has not done a good job,” Trump responded, dodging the question.
When I repeated the question, Trump said: “I am not blaming John McCain for his capture. If he gets captured, he gets captured.”
“Why would you say you like people who don’t get captured?”
Trump: “The people that don’t get captured I’m not supposed to like? I like the people who don’t get captured and I respect the people who do get captured.”
Why would you say that in the context of John McCain: “Excuse me, excuse me. I like the people that don’t get – you have many people that didn’t get captured. I respect them greatly. You’ve got people that got captured. I respect them greatly also. Why – I’m not supposed to respect the people that don’t get captured?
Are you suggesting that John McCain did something to lead to his capture?
Trump: “Of course not.”
Why would you say what you said?
At that point, Trump turned and answered a question about China.
Later, I asked Trump if he would apologize to McCain. “No, not at all.”
Trump is a trainwreck waiting to happen. If it isn’t this gaffe that repels even some of his most ardent supporters, it will be something else. But he could probably declare himself an atheist or gay and still get 10% of the GOP vote. That’s enough to hand the election to Hillary Clinton if, as many expect, he runs as a 3rd party candidate.