Prominent Republicans have condemned Donald Trump over his comments about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an American soldier who was killed in Iraq.
John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, challenged Trump on Monday “to set an example” and said: “I cannot emphasize how deeply I disagree with Mr Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican party, its officers, or candidates.”
Like other leading Republicans, however, McCain did not rescind his endorsement of Trump for the presidency. The Arizona senator faces a tough re-election battle of his own in November.
Army captain Humayun Khan died in a suicide bombing in 2004. Last Thursday, at the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia, his father, Khizr, spoke about his opposition to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration.
This weekend, in an interview with ABC and on Twitter, Trump questioned the authorship of the speech, asked why Ghazala Khan had appeared on stage but said nothing, insisted he had made sacrifices for his country comparable to those of the Khans, and complained of being “viciously attacked”.
On Monday, McCain, a decorated Vietnam veteran, thanked the Khans for coming to the US and said their son’s death “was a shining example of the valor and bravery inculcated into our military”.
The Khans again appeared on national television, Khizr having said in a CNN interview on Sunday that Trump had a “black soul”. In answer to Trump having insinuated that she did not speak at the convention because she was oppressed by her religion, Ghazala Khan told NBC, as she wrote in the Washington Post a day before, that she was too overcome by grief over her son’s death to speak about it.
“I didn’t talk because I don’t have the heart when it comes to Humayun. I can’t,” she said. “I can’t talk – my words will be not that strong or I will start crying.”
McCain fell short of renouncing his endorsement for Trump, who last summer mocked him for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican party,” McCain said. “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
Roy Blunt, a Republican senator from Missouri who has also said he supports Trump, commended the Khans in a statement. He said: “My advice to Donald Trump has been and will continue to be to focus on jobs and national security and stop responding to every criticism whether it’s from a grieving family or Hillary Clinton.”
Mac Thornberry, Republican chair of the House armed services committee, said he was “dismayed” by Trump’s attack on the Khans. He has not endorsed Trump, however, and he did not mention him in his statement.
“There is never enough honor we can show to the families of those whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country,” he said.
The statements were released as the Khans concluded an appearance on NBC’s Today Show. Khizr Khan said he was grateful that the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House speaker, Paul Ryan, had condemned Trump’s comments over the weekend, but suggested they were not listening to the Republican party because of their continuing support of Trump.
“I have an email inbox full of assurance that I am right, that we are right, and he needs to mend his way to deserve their vote,” Khan said. That inbox included an email from a prominent Republican, Khan said, without naming the sender. The prominent Republican said he would not be voting in the presidential election, Khan said, as Trump “has not qualified in their judgment to be deserving of their support”.
At the Democratic convention, Khan waved a pocket-sized US constitution and questioned whether Trump had ever read it. On Monday, Khan was asked about Trump’s claim that the mourning father had “viciously attacked” him by doing so. He laughed, saying the comments proved Trump was unfamiliar with the first-amendment protection of freedom of speech.
“This candidate amazes me,” Khan said. “His ignorance, he can get up and malign the entire nation, the religions, the communities, the minorities, the judges and yet a private citizen in this political process, in his candidacy for the stewardship of this country, I cannot say what I feel?
“That proves the point.”
Trump, who as a young man obtained deferments and did not serve in Vietnam, also faced criticism from the families of 17 Americans who died in war, who in an open letter asked Trump to apologize to the Khans and other families of fallen soldiers for comments they said were “repugnant, and personally offensive”.
The Gold Star families – the term for those who have lost a loved one in service – said Trump’s statements minimized the risks people take by going to war.
“When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us,” the families wrote in a letter to Trump. “When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.
“You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.”