The lessons about pouring gasoline on fires may be lost on Team Trump, but they continue to play out helpfully for everyone else. After continuing to criticize Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Donald Trump managed to fan the flames of a one-day story into a full-blown media sensation, with the Khans now making multiple stops on network morning shows today. Trump also managed to muddy his pro-military, pro-veteran message enough that a number of Gold Star families have demanded an apology from the Republican presidential nominee for his treatment of the Khans:
Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant, and personally offensive to us. When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.
You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.
You are minimizing the risk our service members make for all of us.
This goes beyond politics. It is about a sense of decency. That kind decency you mock as “political correctness.”
We feel we must speak out and demand you apologize to the Khans, to all Gold Star families, and to all Americans for your offensive, and frankly anti-American, comments.
Nor are they alone. John McCain, whose service and experience as a POW Trump once disparaged, has issued a statement rebuking Trump for his comments about the Khans:
“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service,” McCain said in a statement released by his office Monday. “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.” …
In his statement, McCain said he was “morally bound to speak only to the things that command my allegiance,” specifically naming the Republican Party and the United States of America. He said he would not refrain from speaking up “simply because it may benefit others with whom I disagree,” presumably a reference to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. …
“Lastly, I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: thank you for immigrating to America,” McCain said in closing his statement. “We’re a better country because of you. And you are certainly right; your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation – and he will never be forgotten.”
As a number of people pointed out almost immediately, arguing that Trump doesn’t represent the GOP is a tall order. The party nominated him for the presidency, and most of the party’s leadership has lined up behind him. That’s a different calculation than many voters might be making, and which the GOP is busy arguing: that Hillary Clinton is a worse choice. The Republican Party has nominated Trump as its party leader, and that means that they own whatever comes out of his mouth.
Even worse, this looks like the same kind of incompetence that nearly took a small story about a speechwriter’s faux pas and turned it into a three-day scandal during the convention. Why Trump felt he needed to push back against the Khans, whose powerful speech would have otherwise been shortly eclipsed in the aftermath of the conventions, is beyond comprehension. All he needed to say was that he respected the sacrifice of the Khans and that he wanted to make it unnecessary in the future by avoiding Hillary Clinton’s incompetent version of interventionism. Instead, like so many other minor provocations, Trump took it personally and attacked the Khans on a personal basis.
Today, Trump’s now complaining that the Khans are being mean to him:
Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
Trump’s supporters are claiming that the controversy has people talking about radical Islamic terrorism, but that’s not the conversation that’s taking place. The conversation on television is how Trump keeps attacking a family whose son made the ultimate sacrifice for America by fighting radical Islamic terrorism. And that’s the conversation that will keep taking place as long as Team Trump keeps fanning the flames of this controversy.
The conversation that’s almost certainly taking place behind closed doors among Republicans is how many more times Trump will shoot himself in the foot. This isn’t brain surgery; it’s Politics 101 and the First Rule of Holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging. Here’s another rule in politics that Trump either forgot or hasn’t learned: Don’t punch down. You end up looking like a bully, and your opponent has a lot less to lose than you do — and may have much more to gain, especially in exposure. Hammering the Khans is punching down several levels. Almost anyone with decent political instincts would know this without having to have it explained to him.
Instead, Trump has played right into the hands of the Democrats, and now finds his work in courting the veterans vote at risk thanks to a one-day story that Trump has blown up into a major campaign narrative due to his own vanity.
Meanwhile, Khan pretty much nails the lay-up on the Today show:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) August 1, 2016
Update: Remember how Trump makes veterans one of the centerpieces of his campaign? Ooof:
JUST IN: "To ridicule a Gold Star Mother is out-of-bounds," VFW says of Donald Trump's comments on Ghazala Khan. pic.twitter.com/WYIWqMR6i5
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) August 1, 2016