It’s been clear for a while that Donald J. Trump is unqualified to be president of the United States. Now, in denigrating the parents of an American soldier killed in war, he has proven he is uniquely unqualified to be commander in chief. Yet top elected Republican leaders continue to stand behind him, which has us wondering where they draw the line — or whether they’ll ever draw the line — when it comes to this candidate, who does little more than spew inanities and insults.
It was bad enough when Trump last year disparaged the war record of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of war of North Vietnam. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Despite that indefensible comment, McCain eventually endorsed Trump.
Now Trump has responded to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq. Khizr Khan addressed the Democratic National Convention last week to defend Muslim immigrants against Trump’s attacks, and cited the sacrifice his son and the rest of the Khan family made in the name of their adopted country. To Trump, he said, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” as his wife stood silently beside him — afraid to speak, she said later, lest she break out in tears.
If Trump felt it was necessary to comment on the Khans, he could have expressed disappointment in their lack of support for him while acknowledging the selflessness that led their son to try to protect his soldiers from the car bomb that killed him. Instead, Trump acted like a petulant child, complaining that Khan “had no right” to criticize him. And he seemed to equate the “sacrifices” he’s made by working for a living, building buildings and creating jobs with that of Khan’s death.
McCain, who is running for reelection, said Monday that he “cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement,” and commended Humayan Khan’s bravery and actions. But McCain still backs Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin also lauded the Khans and reiterated their opposition to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims, yet they too continue to endorse him for president.
There are politics involved, to be sure. Few Republicans want to be disloyal to their party, and that sometimes means standing next to someone with whom they have deep philosophical disagreements. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and others involved in the party machinery are in a difficult position: Trump won the nomination and now they’re stuck with him. But elected officials like McConnell, Ryan and McCain are duty-bound to put country ahead of party. And the problems with Trump go far beyond dust-ups over policy. The man is a threat to the nation, and to alliances around the world. He expresses admiration for Vladimir Putin and thinks more nations should have nuclear weapons. He’s suggested that he might not defend NATO allies against attack despite our treaty commitments. He’s described Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and said he would build a border wall. He argued that a respected Indiana-born federal judge can’t be impartial in a trial against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. He’s threatened to bar Muslims from entering the country.
Throughout this steady Trump-beat of insults, historical inaccuracies (Trump said this past weekend that Putin “is not going into Ukraine,” oblivious to the fact that Russia has already forcibly annexed Crimea, which is part of Ukraine) and a bizarre endorsement of Russian hacking of U.S. computers, the Republican leadership has shown a distinct lack of spine. It’s not enough to reject individual statements by Trump. Trump’s entire campaign is based on his ego, his intolerance and his disreputable world view. Those who will not repudiate him are on the wrong side in this battle for the nation’s political soul.
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