Washington, Jul 19 – Donald Trump, known for his incendiary rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail, lobbed his latest verbal grenade, dismissing the military record of Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war.
The flamboyant billionaire businessman, reality TV star and Republican presidential contender said McCain – a decorated aviator who was tortured in a prison camp for five years – did not deserve hero status for his Vietnam War service.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump told a gathering of social conservative activists in the Midwestern state of Iowa.
“He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
The 69-year-old business tycoon has never served in the US military.
He went on to assert that McCain “graduated last in his class” at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in the late 1950s.
McCain, 78, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate against Democratic rival Barack Obama, was captured during a bombing raid over Vietnam in October 1967.
– Daughter reacts –
He did not personally react to Trump’s comments, but his daughter, 30-year-old broadcaster Meghan McCain, expressed outrage.
“I can’t believe what I am reading this morning. Horrified. Disgusted. There are no words,” she wrote on her Twitter account.
“I have a brother that just returned from Afghanistan a month ago. Glad he can come home to this being said about his father and his service,” she added with irony.
Trump’s remarks triggered immediate political uproar, as other top Republicans defended McCain’s military record – and in the process tried to cash in on their rival’s faux-pas.
“@SenJohnMcCain is an American hero, period. I’ll denounce any attack against his service and anyone else who wears the uniform,” said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, like Trump is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate, wrote: “The difference between @SenJohnMcCain and @realDonaldTrump: Trump shot himself down. McCain and American veterans are true heroes.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry — a Democrat whose own military record came under fire during his 2004 bid for the presidency — also piped in to defend McCain.
“John McCain is a hero, a man of grit and guts and character personified. He served and bled and endured unspeakable acts of torture,” Kerry said in a statement.
“If anyone doesn’t know that John McCain is a war hero, it only proves they know nothing about war and even less about heroism.”