Donald Trump’s bid for the White House has been littered with controversial comments that have so far had little effect on his popular campaign. Could this time be any different?
Republicans are demanding an apology from the real estate mogul and GOP presidential hopeful after he mocked Arizona Sen. John McCain’s military service in a Saturday interview.
“He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured,” Mr. Trump, speaking to host Frank Luntz at a forum in Ames, Iowa, said of Sen. McCain, who spent six years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
The comment is the latest strike in a week-long war of words between Trump and McCain that began when the Arizona senator said Trump had “fired up the crazies” with the latter’s harsh words about Mexico and undocumented immigrants. But Trump’s Saturday statement sparked outrage across the Republican party in a response that stands in contrast to the reactions that followed his portrayal of Mexican immigrants as drug pushers and rapists – although voters on the ground may have a different opinion.
“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," former Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry said in a statement.
“I respect Sen. McCain because he volunteered to serve his country,” Mr. Perry, one of two candidates who have military experience, continued. “I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump. His comments have reached a new low in American politics.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the other candidate who served in the military, said that anyone serious about running for president would not disrespect prisoners of war. He predicted that when the time comes, states in the early nominating process will show their disapproval for Trump.
“Here’s what I think they will say: Donald Trump, you’re fired,” Sen. Graham said.
Others have taken to Twitter to condemn The Donald.
Later Saturday, Trump attempted to clarify his dismissal of McCain’s service – though Trump issued no apologies.
“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 said in a statement. “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.”
Despite – or perhaps because of – his provocative comments, however, Trump has managed to surge in early polls. At least one survey has him leading the Republican nomination at 17 percent, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush in second at 14 percent.
Some attendees of Trump’s Iowa appearance expressed a guarded approval of his war hero comments.
“He’s the truth-teller,” one woman told the Des Moines Register. “He can say stuff that other people can’t. He’s willing to say stuff that other people won’t. God love him, who knows if that’s going to get any traction, but I think that’s his role in this election.”
Such responses show that any publicity – positive or negative – serves Trump well, some experts say.
“I truly think it’s a brand building play. It’s an old adage, no press is bad press,” Gerry Moran, founder of MarketingThink.com, told The Christian Science Monitor. “It’s not about getting people to like him. It’s about generating content.”