On the final night of the Democratic National Convention, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, made a powerful appearance, honoring their son who was killed in Iraq, and challenging some of Donald Trump’s most offensive positions. The result was more than a memorable convention moment – the Khans caused a spike in the public’s interest in voter registration and purchases of pocket copies of the Constitution.
In response, Trump could have said nothing, or perhaps extended his best wishes to the Khan family before moving on. But when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked the Republican presidential nominee about the Khans on Saturday afternoon, Trump just couldn’t help himself.
TRUMP: I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional. And probably looked like – a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably – maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that. And personally, I watched him. I wish him the best of luck, George.STEPHANOPOULOS: What would you say to the father?TRUMP: Well, I would say, we have had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism, that’s what I’d say.
Reminded that Mr. Khan said Trump has never had to sacrifice, the GOP candidate added, “I think I have made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success.”
When the ABC host asked if those actually constitute “sacrifices,” Trump replied, “Oh sure, I think they’re sacrifices.”
The backlash has been intense, with many on the left, right, and center wondering aloud what in the world Donald Trump was thinking going after a Gold Star family like this, and defining “sacrifice” in a way that seemed hard to understand and even harder to defend.
Yesterday, he somehow managed to make matters just a little worse.
Facing a firestorm of bipartisan criticism, Trump issued a written statement that read in part, “While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr. Khan who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.”
Of course, in the United States, the Constitution absolutely gives the Khan family the right to criticize Trump. For the Republican candidate to insist otherwise only adds insult to injury.
Trump added on Twitter soon after, “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond?”
In case this isn’t obvious, Khan’s speech wasn’t vicious, and while Trump is certainly “allowed to respond,” his critics are also allowed to denounce that response.
Let’s not overlook the fact that Trump’s line wasn’t just offensive, it was factually wrong. As Ghazala Khan told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, and expanded on in a Washington Post op-ed, she was silent during the convention appearance, not because of her faith or family pressure, but because of her grief.
Khizr Khan also continues to speak out, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” yesterday, “We have a candidate without a moral compass, without empathy for its citizens.” Khan is also urging Republican leaders to denounce Trump’s candidacy.
That’s not happening. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) each issued statements yesterday, honoring the Khan family, but refusing to even mention Trump by name.
It raises the question anew: is there literally nothing Donald J. Trump could do to force Republican leaders to pull their support for his candidacy?
Last night, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), Trump’s running mate, issued a statement of his own, describing Humayun Khan as “an American hero” whose family “should be cherished.” The statement quickly transitions, however, to complaining about “the disastrous decisions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” and touting Trump’s idea of “suspending immigration from countries that have been compromised by terrorism.”
* Postscript: In 2005, then-President George W. Bush was asked about criticisms from Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in combat in Iraq. “I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan,” Bush said at the time. “She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position.” Imagine if Trump had the sense to say something so straightforward.