Donald Trump finally said something that shook the Republican establishment out of its self-induced stupor over his presidential candidacy. “He’s a war hero because he was captured,” the loudmouth from New York said about Sen. John McCain, Vietnam War veteran and prisoner of war, at a GOP cattle call in Iowa on Saturday. “I like people that weren’t captured.”
That’s rich coming from a billionaire who received five deferments from military service during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, McCain, who refused early release, was held captive and tortured in a North Vietnam prison for five-and-a-half years. Anyone who aspires to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces ought to know better than to disparage the service of anyone who has ever donned the uniform.
The condemnation was swift from most of his competitors. Although Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) was typically craven with his defense of McCain and his refusal to criticize Trump. The political play here is easy to discern. While Trump is soaring in the polls, Cruz knows he’ll be in the race longer than The Donald. And he hopes or expects Trumps followers to see him as the natural heir for their support.
I also should point out that some of the other GOP aspirants were craven in a different way. Many of them were mute when Trump railed against illegal immigration by saying Mexico was “not sending their best. … They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems [to] us. They are bringing drugs. They are bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Trump vaulted in the polls among Republican primary voters after those remarks. Thus, squelching instant condemnation of Trump and further complicating the GOP’s standing with Hispanic voters whom they will need to win the White House next year.
Perhaps the most telling comment Trump made about McCain came immediately before his non-hero declaration. Telling because it shows how meaningless much of his hyperbole is.
I supported him for president. I raised a million dollars for him. That’s a lot of money. I supported him. He let us down. He lost. So I never liked him as much after that ‘cause I don’t like losers.
Upon hearing this, my friend Rick in Atlanta texted me a cheeky observation. “Someone should ask [Trump] if he likes Obama then since he WON last 2 prez elections,” he wrote. Good point. The Donald should LOVE the president. He won two presidential elections against the odds. The first because he was the first African American on the ballot to break through the world’s most powerful glass ceiling. The second because the economy was lousy and the national mood even more so. Throw on top of that a stock market that has gone from 7,949.09 on the day Obama was inaugurated in 2009 to 18,120.25 as of July 17 and a health-care law that survived two serious constitutional challenges and you have a clear winner by Trump’s standards.
A story in Buzzfeed last week usefully reminded us that Trump has glowing things to say about the president after his first year in office. “What he has done is amazing. The fact that he accomplished what he has — in one year and against great odds — is truly phenomenal,” Trump wrote in a 2009 book. “Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen — and in an exceptional way.”
As we all remember, Trump cancelled out all that high praise when he latched on with his racist birther nonsense in 2011. We saw his penchant for political perfidy then so no one should be surprised by what he said about McCain now. His refusal to apologize to McCain and the pity party way he complains about the presidential-level treatment he is receiving in the media reveals skin so thin I could paper my walls with it.
Pride goeth before the fall, the Book of Proverbs warns. And Trump has it in spades.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj