Donald Trump doesn’t want to hear it, especially not from his fellow candidates – or so the business-tycoon-turned-Republican-presidential-hopeful has said in response to a growing chorus within the GOP criticizing his comments against Arizona Sen. John McCain (R).
At a forum in Iowa Saturday, Mr. Trump had mocked Senator McCain’s military service and time spent as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, saying of the senator, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured.”
McCain took the comments about his service in relative stride, but told MSNBC's Morning Joe Monday that Trump "may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country."
Meanwhile, Trump's statement ushered in a wave of condemnation, mostly from Trump’s fellow Republican candidates but also from other well-known conservatives, with some calling for his withdrawal from the presidential race.
Trump, for his part, seemed unfazed by the backlash, striking back at his critics and doubling down on his statement against McCain in a Sunday op-ed for USA Today:
The 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.
“A number of my competitors for the Republican nomination have no business running for president,” he continued. “I do not need to be lectured by any of them.”
Part of the indignation directed at Trump stemmed from the real estate mogul’s lack of military service. In the spring of 1968, while McCain was languishing in a Viet Cong prison after his plane was shot down over Hanoi the year before, Trump – who had avoided being drafted – was on his way to earning an Ivy League degree and had a job in his father’s real estate company, according to the Washington Post.
“As Trump was preparing to take Manhattan,” the Post noted, “McCain was trying to relearn how to walk.”
Perhaps the only one to refrain from criticism was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who praised McCain but refused to speak out against Trump.
“You know I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican-on-Republican violence, and so you want me to say something bad about Donald Trump, or bad about John McCain, or bad about anyone else,” Senator Cruz said. “I’m not going to do it.”
Still, for better or for worse, Trump’s provocative comments have kept him in the spotlight, and even at the top of Republican polls.
But does any of it matter? For those who doubt Trump’s relevance, The Christian Science Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield argues:
Trump matters because he is a voice for the disaffected conservative – mostly white, mostly over 65, mostly less-educated.... [He] is the elephant in the Republican room, saying aloud those things that more-electable Republican candidates only skirt in order to remain electable.
Trump matters because he represents the continued evolution of a certain strand of Republican politicking that has been gaining momentum for decades. He is the next iteration of the Sarah Palin populist – the outsider who speaks boldly but not very specifically.
Whether or not Trump gets the Republican nomination is, at this point, beside the point, Mr. Sappenfield continues. “But like a summer blockbuster, where each bang and boom must outdo the last, Trump is upping the shock value on his great box office run.”