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Des Moines Register calls on Donald Trump to drop out

The op-ed comes amid a firestorm of controversy generated by Trump's comments about Sen. John McCain's war record.

The Des Moines Register, arguably the most influential publication in the early primary state of Iowa, called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race in an op-ed published on their website late Monday.

The op-ed comes amid a firestorm of controversy generated by Trump's comments about Sen. John McCain's war record at the Family Leadership Summit on Saturday. Trump initially said McCain was "not a war hero" during a Q&A. Although he later clarified that McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over five years, was "perhaps" a hero, Trump has stubbornly refused to apologize for his statements.

In the scathing piece penned by the Register's editorial board, Trump is accused of being more "focused on promoting himself, and his brand, than in addressing the problems facing the nation." 

RELATED: Veterans respond to Donald Trump's comments

"If he were merely a self-absorbed, B-list celebrity, his unchecked ego could be tolerated as a source of mild amusement. But he now wants to become president, which means that he aspires to be the leader of the free world and the keeper of our nuclear launch codes," the op-ed reads. "That is problematic, because Trump, by every indication, seems wholly unqualified to sit in the White House. If he had not already disqualified himself through his attempts to demonize immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, he certainly did so by questioning the war record of John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona."

The piece goes on to commend McCain's service in Vietnam and to call Trump's critique of the senator "disgraceful."

"The best way Donald Trump can serve his country is by apologizing to McCain and terminating this ill-conceived campaign," the op-ed concludes. Previously, Trump's GOP rival, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on Trump to quit the race. And he has been criticized by nearly every other 2016 candidate for his attacks on McCain.

Trump, true to form, fired back in a characteristic statement calling the newspaper "uneven and inconsistent," as well as "very dishonest."

"I am not at all surprised by the Des Moines Register's sophomoric editorial," he wrote in a statement released on Tuesday. "It was issued immediately after the release of the ABC News/Washington Post poll showing me with 24% and an eleven-point lead over my nearest rival. As one of the most liberal newspapers in the United States, the poll results were just too much for them to bear."

Still, the real estate mogul appears to be unmoved by criticism over his remarks, claiming that "nobody" at the summit was insulted by his comments and that the entire story has been promoted by his Republican peers who trail him in the polls. He has also faulted McCain personally for starting the feud. The Arizona senator had dismissed Trump supporters as "crazies" in the past.

In his own op-ed published Sunday, Trump defended his record on veterans and said he will not be lectured by "failed politicians." During an appearance Monday night on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," Trump said "I have respect for Sen. McCain, I used to like him a lot. I supported him. I raised a lot of money for his campaign against President Obama. And certainly if there was a misunderstanding I would totally take that back, but hopefully I said it correctly and certainly, shortly thereafter I said it correctly ... I would like him however to do something with the 15,000 people that were in Phoenix about illegal immigration."

Several polls have shown Trump emerging as a frontrunner among GOP voters nationwide, and he has ranked second to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in some recent polls out of Iowa.

On several talk show appearances since Saturday, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he is not a "fan" of McCain because he has done "nothing" to help U.S. veterans. McCain said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday that he doesn't need an apology from the polarizing candidate but that he does "owe" a mea culpa to the families of other prisoners or war.

"There are so many men, and some women, who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner and somehow to denigrate that, in any way, their service I think is offensive," McCain said. 

"A great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes. I'm not a hero," he added.