With his derogatory comments about Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) time as a prisoner of war, Donald Trump now has the entire political establishment basically calling for his head on a stick — which might just be where he really wants them.
You see, Donald Trump’s campaign strategy is to pitch him as the one man who’s taking on the entrenched politicians. It’s what’s helped him surge to first place in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll with 24 percent of Republican voters, nearly double the numbers of Scott Walker (13 percent) and Jeb Bush (12 percent).
And now he has every politician openly denouncing him as a disgrace. His latest move is a tricky gambit indeed, and even the Post’s analysis is uncertain of what’s going to happen next.
McCain himself appeared Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and gave a clever response as to whether Trump personally owed him an apology.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “But I think he 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.”
The senator spoke of the men who suffered alongside him in captivity: “A great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes — I’m not a hero.”
McCain also put a lighthearted gloss on having called Trump supporters “crazies,” calling it a “term of endearment.”
Meanwhile, The Donald appeared on the Today show to say that the media was falsely manipulating what he had said — to which Matt Lauer responded by simply reading Trump’s actual words back to him.
It all started last week, when McCain complained that a rally Trump held in Phoenix really “fired up the crazies.” In response, Trump lashed out at McCain on Twitter, calling for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee to be defeated in the primary for his Senate seat next year.
And notably, Trump invoked McCain’s military service — and badmouthed his performance at the Naval Academy: “Graduated last in his class at Annapolis – dummy!”
Trump kept up the McCain bashing on Saturday. “I supported him for president. I raised a million dollars for him — that’s a lot of money,” Trump said at the right-wing Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. “I supported him, he lost — he let us down. But you know, he lost — so I never liked him as much after that, because I don’t like losers.”
The conservative activist audience was laughing at Trump’s roasting of McCain. But then the event’s moderator, GOP spin doctor Frank Luntz, called McCain “a war hero.”
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump fired back petulantly. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay? I hate to tell to you.”
(While speaking to reporters afterward, Trump did clarify just a bit: “If a person is captured, they are a hero as far as I’m concerned.”)
The Republican National Committee, which in theory is supposed to be a neutral referee of the presidential race, took the extraordinary step of releasing a statement by spokesman Sean Spicer:
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.
Almost immediately, nearly all the other Republican candidates pounced on this, and declared their respect for McCain’s war service. But probably the toughest of all was Rick Perry, who for some time has taken the lead role in attacking The Donald. On Saturday, released this statement (with underlining in the original) — calling upon Trump to drop out:
Donald Trump should apologize immediately for attacking Senator McCain and all veterans who have protected and served our country. 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. 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.
But notably, one other Republican candidate has not bashed Trump: Ted Cruz
“You want me to say something bad about Donald Trump, or bad about John McCain, or bad about anyone else — I’m not going to do it,” Cruz said. “JM is a friend of mine, I respect and admire him, and he’s an American hero. And DT is a friend of mine. The rest of it — you can throw rocks at Republican candidates, I’m not going to engage in that process.”
Ted Cruz is also the same man who previously defended Trump’s candidacy after NBC fired him from the Apprentice TV franchise in the wake of his comments about Mexican immigrants.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth,” Cruz said three weeks ago. “And I think NBC is engaging in political correctness that is silly and that is wrong.”
The takeaway from this should be obvious: When Donald Trump eventually crashes out, Ted Cruz wants to be there to welcome his supporters.
Also on Saturday, the Republican Party’s previous nominee for president chimed in to praise the nominee who came before him — and condemn a man aspiring to be the next one:
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 18, 2015
Trump responded right back on Twitter to Romney — and to McCain.
Why would anybody listen to @MittRomney? He lost an election that should have easily been won against Obama. By the way, so did John McCain!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2015
On Sunday, Trump was interviewed by Martha Raddatz on This Week, where he continued to lay into McCain on the issues of veterans’ care and immigration — and also continued his praise of those soldiers who aren’t captured.
“People that fought hard and weren’t captured and went through a lot, they get no credit,” Trump said. “Nobody even talks about them. They’re like forgotten, and I think that’s a shame, if you want to know the truth.”
Trump also added: “I want to give them credit, because frankly they don’t get the credit. John McCain gets credit — he was elected a senator, et cetera, et cetera, and we give him all the credit.”
Trump then wrote a guest op-ed piece in USA Today, completely digging into McCain on veterans’ care, immigration, Iraq, Iran — and on the particularly sore point of losing the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama.
Thanks to McCain and his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, their legislation to cover up the VA scandal, in which 1,000+ veterans died waiting for medical care, made sure no one has been punished, charged, jailed, fined or held responsible. McCain has abandoned our veterans. I will fight for them.
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. He even voted for the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, which allows Obama, who McCain lost to in a record defeat, to push his dangerous Iran nuclear agreement through the Senate without a supermajority of votes.
And as an extra bonus: The perennially wrong (but somehow influential) neoconservative maven Bill Kristol, who had previously been defending Trump’s candidacy against the media backlash, finally had to say on Sunday that he was “finished” with the man, asserting: “He’s dead to me.”
Ah, but the reality of Bill Kristol getting everything wrong — that one still lives on.
Photo: Businessman and Republican candidate for president Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Laconia, New Hampshire, July 16, 2015. (REUTERS/Dominick Reuter)