Trump broke a political and societal taboo over the weekend when he criticized Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the bereaved parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim who was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart after he was killed in 2004. Trump stoked outrage by implying Ghazala Khan did not speak while standing alongside her husband at last week’s Democratic National Convention because she is a Muslim woman.
The outcry has been swift and bipartisan. On Monday, Republican Sen. John McCain said in a statement that the fact Trump won his party’s nomination doesn’t give him “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.” Another Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, advised Trump to “focus on jobs and national security and stop responding to every criticism whether it’s from a grieving family or Hillary Clinton.” Both senators have given Trump tepid endorsements amid worries that the Republican nominee will damage their own re-election campaigns.
At last week’s convention, Khizr Khan criticized Trump for proposing to freeze the entry of foreign Muslims into the U.S. and accused him of making no sacrifices for his country.
Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have issued statements praising the couple’s son. Though neither mentioned Trump, the leaders pointedly denounced his proposed restriction on foreign Muslims, a policy he has altered in recent weeks.
The episode risked setting back whatever progress Trump made during his convention at winning over the independent voters who will probably be key in the fall election.
Yet he’s repeatedly made inflammatory statements at little apparent political cost — and sometimes to his benefit — going back to the beginning of the campaign when he challenged the heroism of McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and branded Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Many of his supporters have been drawn to his tendency to say the politically unthinkable. The question is whether this, finally, is a step too far.
For the second time in a week, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, issued a statement that appeared designed to put some space between the two men. The father of a Marine, Pence said Sunday that he and Trump believe Capt. Khan is a hero and his family “should be cherished by every American.”
Last week, Pence said Russia would face “serious consequences” for meddling in U.S. elections at roughly the same time Trump appeared to encourage it, telling reporters he would welcome Russia unearthing emails that Clinton deleted from the private servers she used while secretary of state.
Pence’s statement came after an afternoon of debate among his aides as to whether he should find a way to dissociate himself subtly from Trump’s comments, according to a person familiar with the internal campaign conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
At the Democratic convention, the Pakistan-born Khizr Khan told his son’s story, questioned whether Trump had ever read the Constitution and said “you have sacrificed nothing.” During the speech, Ghazala Khan stood quietly by his side.
Trump responded in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” saying: “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.”
Ghazala Khan wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post that she did not speak because talking about her son’s death remains difficult. “Every day, whenever I pray, I have to pray for him, and I cry,” she wrote.
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Associated Press writers Cal Woodward in Washington, Steve Peoples in Colorado and Catherine Lucey in Iowa contributed to this report.