In his first interview since making remarks critical of Sen. John McCain’s Vietnam war record, Donald Trump on Sunday did not back down, saying he doesn’t owe the Arizona Republican an apology and that the former GOP presidential nominee “has done nothing to help the veterans except talk.”
During a Q&A session Saturday at the conservative Family Leadership Summit, the Republican presidential candidate said of McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” McCain is one of the many prominent Republicans to come out in opposition to Trump’s candidacy and his controversial rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants. Trump’s comments on McCain have since drawn widespread condemnation across the political spectrum.
And some of his fellow Republican 2016 candidates are even going so far as to call for Trump to drop out of the race. “His attack on veterans makes him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for president,” Rick Perry said in a statement Saturday. During a Sunday appearance on CNN’s “State of the Nation,” Sen. Marco Rubio echoed Perry’s sentiments, calling Trump’s comments “absurd and offensive.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Rubio told host Dana Bash. “And I do think it is a dis-qualifier as Commander-in-Chief.”
In a Sunday televised phone interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump was defiant about his comments the previous day. “I’m very disappointed in John McCain because the vets are horribly treated in this country. I’m fighting for the vets, I’ve done a lot for the vets,” Trump told host Martha Raddatz. “They’re treated like third class citizens. He’s done nothing to help the vets. And I will tell you they are living in hell.”
Trump claimed that “nobody was insulted” at the Family Leader Summit by his comments and that subsequent uproar was being generated by his 2016 GOP rivals “some of whom are registering 1% and 0” in the polls.
He went on to blame McCain for instigating their public squabble because the Arizona senator had described some of his supporters as “crazies.” “And frankly, I think he owes them an apology,” Trump said.
Trump’s attacks on McCain have resurrected criticism of his own history of military service, or lack thereof. When asked about a series of deferments he received during the Vietnam War, Trump said, “I had student deferments, like many other people had, during the war or around the time of the war. I had a minor medical deferment for feet, for a bone spur of the foot, which was minor. I was then entered into the draft because if I would have gotten a different number, I could have been drafted.”
“I was fortunate, in a sense, because I was not a believer in 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,” he continued.
The real estate mogul also defended his tendency to launch personal attacks on his critics. “You know, it’s my hair but people are constantly attacking my hair. I don’t see you coming to my defense,” he said. He then went on to mock McCain’s academic record at Annapolis. And yet, Trump admitted to having raised $1 million for McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Although he conceded that in the past he has said things “on occasion” he regrets, Trump didn’t offer an example when pressed. He instead boasted about topping recent polls in early primary states like Nevada and North Carolina. He also insisted he has no plans to withdraw from the campaign.
“John McCain has failed. Because all you have to do is take a look – what you report on all the time, take a look at the scandal at the Veterans’ Administration and the disastrous conditions under which our veterans have to live,” Trump told Raddatz. “And believe me, I built, with a small group, the Vietnam Memorial in downtown Manhattan. I know what it is to help people and I know what it is to help veterans.”