Donald Trump mocked John McCain – and by extension other members of the armed services held as prisoners of war – saying that being captured by the enemy does not equal heroism.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump of McCain, who as a Navy pilot was shot down over Vietnam. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
McCain was tortured during his five and a half years as a prisoner of war and refused preferential treatment because of his father’s high rank in the Navy.
Republicans reacted with anger and outrage at Trump’s remarks, made Saturday at a forum in Iowa of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, himself a veteran and a rival for the nomination, demanded that Trump withdraw form the race as unfit to serve as commander in chief.
“Donald Trump should apologize immediately for attacking Senator McCain and all veterans who have protected and served our country,” Perry said.
“As a veteran and an American, I respect Sen. McCain because he volunteered to serve his country. I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump. His comments have reached a new low in American politics,” Perry said. “His attack on veterans make him unfit to be commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for president.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who already has been lambasting Trump for comments about immigrants from Mexico, called Trump’s new remarks “slanderous.”
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin demanded that Trump apologize.
“He needs to apologize to Senator McCain and all the other men and women who have worn the uniform,” Walker told reporters. “It’s just a disgrace.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana indirectly drew the comparison to McCain’s service and the fact that Trump did not serve. Trump received four student deferments from the draft between 1964 and 1968, according to thesmokinggun.com website.
The Republican National Committee, which normally does not make public criticisms of party candidates, also spoke out quickly.
“Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period. There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably,” said Sean Spicer, RNC chief strategist and communications director.
Trump sought afterward to limit his criticisms to McCain.
"Many people get captured. They are brave men because they are in the field,” he said. “I like the people who don't get captured, and I respect the people that do get captured."
He added, “If somebody is a prisoner I would consider that person a war hero, but we have a lot of war heroes that weren't prisoners also, and we should give them credit too."
He refused to back down on McCain.
“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,” he said of McCain.
Trump also attacked McCain for saying his comments about Mexican immigrants was stirring up “crazies.”
“He was extremely disrespectful to the thousands upon thousands of people, many of whom happen to be his constituents, that came to listen to me speak about illegal immigration in Phoenix last week by calling them ‘crazies,’’’ Trump said.
“These were not ‘crazies.’ These were great American citizens.”