In a moment that encapsulated so many elements of a bizarre election, Donald Trump on Monday used Twitter to criticize the Khan family while the suddenly famous parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq were talking about him on CNN.
The exchange had everything: Trump's love of social media and addiction to cable news were on full display, as was his habit of continuing feuds that other Republicans — his own running mate seemingly included — wish he would walk away from. And the whole thing played out on live television, ensuring exposure in that instant and in follow-up articles like this one.
What a perfect representation of how the GOP presidential nominee operates when the media spotlight is on.
Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who also gave interviews to NBC and MSNBC on Monday morning, were discussing their appearance onstage at last week's Democratic National Convention when Trump fired off a real-time response on Twitter. CNN's John Berman then read the message to his guests.
BERMAN: Mr. Khan, Donald Trump is apparently watching right now. On Twitter, he just said, “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over TV doing the same. Nice.” Given that you know he is watching now, is there a message you would like to send to him about this discussion?
KHAN: I really want to maintain mine and my family’s dignity. I spoke what was appropriate, and if he’s watching, just imagine, there was no need to comment the way he commented. That initiated this conversation. I again say we want to maintain our dignity, we want to maintain our family’s dignity, my son’s dignity and sacrifice. And he should listen to America — what America and the world is telling about the remarks about the lack of empathy. And that’s all I wish to convey to him — that a good leader has one trait. Earlier, I said empathy. … It is basic character, realizing, feeling the pains, the difficulties of the people that you wish to lead. And that is missing.
When the interview concluded, Trump quickly countered with a tweet in which he deflected attention off the Khans and onto combating terrorism.
But the fireworks on CNN were just beginning. Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, then got into a heated argument with Hillary Clinton supporter Christine Quinn, former speaker of the New York City Council. Berman referred to Trump's remark about Ghazala Khan on ABC over the weekend — "maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say," the business mogul said in noting that the mother had not spoken onstage — and asked whether Lewandowski would have advised his candidate to question a grieving mother.
"Here’s what I would say to him: When someone attacks you publicly in front of a stage of millions of people, you have an ability to respond," Lewandowski replied. That led to this back and forth with Quinn:
QUINN: Any decent person who saw Mrs. Khan onstage could see the pain and the grief in her face. And any person who has lost anyone — or even any person who’s been so blessed they haven’t — could understand why she couldn’t talk, even all these years later, about losing her son in the way she lost him. I lost my mother when I was 16; I’m 50. I couldn’t stand in front of America and talk about her.
LEWANDOWSKI: This is —
QUINN: And then — whoa! Whoa! And to make —
LEWANDOWSKI: You gotta relax a little bit. You gotta relax a little bit.
QUINN: I do not have to relax when he — no —
LEWANDOWSKI: Excuse me! Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.
QUINN: Oh, calm down with your —
QUINN: She chose to stand there. I’m not going to relax. Because we have a man running for president of the United States who made a Gold Star mother have go on TV and cry in front of America. This isn’t about politics.
The touching to which Lewandowski so strongly objected appeared to be nothing more than incidental contact between Quinn's hand and his, as the two gestured to make their points. Unless, of course, she was kicking him under the table.
This is the same guy who faced a misdemeanor battery charge in March for grabbing the arm of a reporter and insisted — before security footage proved otherwise — that he never made contact with the woman.