Speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Iowa on Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, was not a war hero. The comment was met with immediate, near-unanimous condemnation, but one day later, Trump remained adamant that he didn’t have to apologize and instead accused jealous GOP rivals and the media of deliberately twisting his words to damage his campaign.
Said Trump on Saturday in Iowa, “[McCain is] not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you.” Trump then hedged a little, adding, “I believe, perhaps he’s a war hero, but right now, he’s said some very bad things about a lot of people.” The crowd reacted with a combination of laughter and scattered boos.
Last week, McCain said Trump was “firing up the crazies” with his campaign rhetoric about immigration. In response, Trump tweeted that McCain was a “dummy.” At the Saturday event in Iowa, Trump indicated he took offense that McCain would suggest Trump’s “great American” supporters were crazy. He also explained how he stopped taking McCain seriously after the senator’s 2008 loss to Barack Obama. “I never liked him after that, because I don’t like losers,” he said.
According to Politico, Trump later denied saying McCain wasn’t a war hero at a press availability following the Iowa appearance, insisting, “If somebody’s a prisoner, I consider them a war hero.” He then claimed that McCain has “done very little for the veterans.”
Trump’s backtracking then continued on Twitter:
And on Facebook, where Trump added:
I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes. I want to strengthen our military and take care of our Veterans. I want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN especially for those that serve to protect our freedom. I am fighting for our Veterans!
But as Politico helpfully points out:
Trump received four student deferments from military service between 1964 and 1968. In Ames, he told reporters another medical deferment he received after graduating was for a bone spur in his foot. When asked which foot, Trump told reporters to look up the records.
Speaking Sunday morning with Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week, Trump was asked if he owes McCain an apology for his remarks. He responded, “No, not at all,” before attacking the press and jealous GOP rivals for misconstruing his comments. He went on to later reiterate his criticism that McCain has not done enough for veterans while in office.
During the interview, Trump also implied that McCain gets war-hero attention at the expense of other veterans, “People that fought hard and weren’t captured and went through a lot, they get no credit,” said Trump. “Nobody even talks about them. They’re like, forgotten, and I think that’s a shame, if you want to know the truth.”
Trump claimed he wasn’t worried about the controversy over what he said on Saturday because of the crowd reaction he saw after that appearance: “Very importantly, I got a standing ovation, the biggest ovation they had all weekend, by far. When I left the room, it was a total standing ovation. It was wonderful to see. Nobody was insulted.” And Trump insisted he would not drop out of the race, as some have suggested in light of his comments about McCain. Answering an audience member at the Saturday event in Iowa, Trump refused to rule out a third-party run as well.
Asked by Raddatz about his Vietnam War deferments, Trump pointed to the high draft lottery number he was issued, following the deferments, and said he would have served if his draft number had been called. He also said he opposed the Vietnam War: “That was another war that was a disaster for this country. Lives and money and it’s disgraceful what happened with the Vietnam War. I was not a fan of the Vietnam War.”
With the exception of Ted Cruz, virtually every other GOP presidential candidate, as well as the RNC and Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, have condemned Trump’s war-hero comments and declared their support for McCain and other veterans, though former candidate Mitt Romney got in the best dig:
Watch the original remarks Trump made on Saturday below:
This post has been updated throughout.