Donald Trump was asked about statements made at the Democratic convention by Khizr Khan, a father who lost his son in Iraq. If you somehow missed Khan’s brief speech at the Democratic National Convention, you can watch it here. Also on stage with Khan was his wife who didn’t speak but stood beside him for moral support.
George Stephanopoulos of ABC News pressed Trump to respond to Khan’s remarks during an interview which is set to air tomorrow morning. Trump’s answers will leave you scratching your head wondering what he was thinking. Here’s the exchange based on the video ABC News has published thus far:
Stephanopoulos: There’s a man named Khizr Khan speaking at the Democratic convention. His son Captain Humayun Khan was killed serving in Iraq and he had some very tough questions for you. He said you wouldn’t have even let his son in America…
Trump: He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know that. I saw him. He was very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say, she probably…maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say, you tell me but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say, a lot of people have said that and, personally, I watched him, I wish him the best of luck, George.
Stephanopoulos: What would you say to that father?
Trump: Well, I’d say we’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism. That’s what I’d say. We have a lot of problems where, you look at San Bernardino, you look at Orlando, you look at the World Trade Center, you look at so many different things. You look at what happened to the priest over the weekend in Paris where his throat was cut, 85-year-old beloved Catholic priest, you look at what happened in Nice, France a couple of weeks ago. I’d say you’ve got to take a look at that because something is going on and it’s not good.
Stephanopoulos: He said you have sacrificed nothing and no one.
Trump: Well, that sounds…who wrote that, did Hillary’s scriptwriters write it?
Stephanopoulos: How would you answer that father? What sacrifice have you made for your country?
Trump: I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs.
Stephanopoulos: Those are sacrifices?
Trump: Oh sure I think they’re sacrifices. I think when I can employ thousands and thousands of people, take care of their education, take care of so many things. Even in military I mean I was very responsible, along with a group of people, for getting the Vietnam memorial in downtown Manhattan, which to this day people thank me for. I raised and I have raised millions of dollars for the vets. I’m helping the vets a lot.
Trump’s opening comments about Mr. Khan seemed respectful and about as good an answer as anyone could give under the circumstances. And then he took a wrong turn down a rhetorical dark alley by attacking Khan’s wife. He seems to be suggesting she wasn’t allowed to speak, probably because she’s a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Trump claims “a lot of people” have “written that.” Is he talking about Twitter? Where did he see someone say this about Khan’s wife? And again, even if he did see this somewhere else, why is he repeating it? For one thing, it’s not true. But the main point here is why go after the family of a dead American soldier? What more does this woman have to offer to earn a little respect?
Trump’s attack on Mrs. Khan will overshadow his next answer which was pretty solid. Asked what he would say to Khan, he lists a string of recent, horrible attacks around the world. Trump is making the case that he wants to preserve the lives of innocents threatened by Islamic terrorists, i.e. people motivated to kill by their religion. His list of mostly recent attacks shows that fight is a) important and b) will necessarily involve some confrontation with the underlying motive behind these crimes, i.e. radical Islam. If Khan’s speech was about pointing out that there are many patriotic Muslims, Trump’s answer was about pointing out there are many who are not patriotic and are in fact dangerous.
Trump then bumbles the question about sacrifice. First he suggests it was written by someone else. There’s no evidence this is true but, in any case, it’s a mistake to suggest the grief of these parents is somehow scripted rather than genuine.
To be fair, this question about sacrifice is one few national politicians could answer satisfactorily. What would Hillary Clinton say if asked this same question about the mother of Sean Smith?
The best Trump could have done here is to admit the obvious truth, i.e. some people have made greater sacrifices for this country than he has. Period. Instead, his next answer about his business makes little if any sense. Trump should have acknowledged the Khan family’s loss and then go on to say that he really cares about the sacrifices made by our military which is why he’s so concerned with the treatment of veterans. Trump tried to get there at the end of his answer but the opening bit about creating jobs for people was way off the mark.
The real problem here is that Trump made mistakes that were easy to avoid. Attacking a grief-stricken gold star mom is something you should know right away is a bad idea. You don’t have to agree with Mr. and Mrs. Khan’s politics to show respect for their loss. Frankly, if you can’t manage that much for a grieving gold star mom you don’t deserve to be America’s commander-in-chief.