New York Times
By Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman, and Ashley Parker
July 31, 2016
Donald J. Trump reeled on Sunday amid a sustained campaign of criticism by the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq and a rising outcry within his own party over his rough and racially charged dismissal of the couple.
The confrontation between the parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and Mr. Trump has emerged as an unexpected and potentially pivotal flash point in the general election. Mr. Trump has plainly struggled to respond to the reproach of a military family who lost a son, and he has repeatedly answered the Khan family’s criticism with harsh and defensive rhetoric.
And Mr. Trump’s usual political tool kit has appeared to fail him. He earned no reprieve with his complaints that Mr. Khan had been unfair to him; on Sunday morning, he claimed on Twitter that Mr. Khan had “viciously attacked” him. Mr. Trump and his advisers tried repeatedly to change the subject to Islamic terrorism, to no avail.
Instead, Mr. Trump appeared to be caught on Sunday in perhaps the biggest crisis of his campaign, rivaling the uproar in June after he attacked a federal judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel, over his “Mexican heritage.” By going after a military family and trafficking in ethnic stereotypes, Mr. Trump once again breached multiple norms of American politics, redoubling pressure on his fellow Republicans to choose between defending his remarks or breaking publicly with their nominee.
Mr. Trump also risked reopening controversies related to religious tolerance and military service: His treatment of the Khans has already brought on a new wave of criticism of his proposal to ban Muslim immigration, as well as of his mockery of Senator John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Democratic leaders and candidates for Congress began over the weekend to call on Republicans to disavow Mr. Trump. And the top two Republicans in Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, signaled their strong disagreement with Mr. Trump, but stopped short of condemning him in blunt terms.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, sternly reprimanded Mr. Trump on Sunday morning, saying at a church in Cleveland that Mr. Trump had answered the Khan family’s sacrifice with disrespect for them and for American traditions of religious tolerance.
“Mr. Khan paid the ultimate sacrifice in his family, didn’t he?” Mrs. Clinton said. “And what has he heard from Donald Trump? Nothing but insults, degrading comments about Muslims, a total misunderstanding of what made our country great.”
Mrs. Clinton chastised Mr. Trump again Sunday in Ashland, Ohio, calling his comments part of a disturbing pattern. “He called Mexicans rapists and criminals,” Mrs. Clinton said. “He said a federal judge was unqualified because he had Mexican heritage, someone born in the neighboring state of Indiana. He’s called women pigs. He’s mocked a reporter with a disability.”
And at an earlier stop in Youngstown, Ohio, late Saturday, Bill Clinton likened Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khans to his ridicule of Mr. McCain. “I was crazed by the attack on Senator McCain. But at least he survived,” Mr. Clinton said. Of Humayun Khan, the fallen soldier, Mr. Clinton said, “That man gave his life for his unit.”
Both Mr. and Ms. Khan stiffened their denunciation of Mr. Trump on Sunday, saying that he lacked the moral character and basic empathy to be president. Mr. Khan, who addressed the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC that Mr. Trump had shown disrespect to his wife, and he accused Mr. Trump of running a campaign “of hatred, of derision, of dividing us.”
In a direct appeal to voters inclined to support Mr. Trump, Mr. Khan pleaded with them to reject his brand of politics.
Addressing himself to “patriotic Americans that would probably vote for Donald Trump,” Mr. Khan pleaded, “I appeal to them not to vote for hatred, not to vote for fear-mongering. Vote for unity. Vote for the goodness of this country.”
And Ms. Khan, in an opinion article published in The Washington Post, rebuked Mr. Trump for suggesting earlier in the weekend that she had not been permitted to speak at the Democratic convention. Ms. Khan said she did not speak because she did not believe she could remain composed while talking about her son.
“All the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart,” Ms. Khan wrote. She continued: “Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”
Ms. Khan said Mr. Trump was “ignorant” of Islam and criticized him for offering his business career as evidence that he had sacrificed for his country. “Donald Trump said he has made a lot of sacrifices,” Ms. Khan said. “He doesn’t know what the word sacrifice means.”
It is too soon to say how severe the damage to Mr. Trump’s campaign might be, but his clash with the Khans has already entangled him in a self-destructive, dayslong argument with a pair of sympathetic accusers who are portraying him as a person of unredeemable callousness. Several prominent Republicans have spoken out against Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khans, calling his behavior outside the bounds of political discourse.
Still, Republican congressional leaders responded cautiously to Mr. Trump. Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell released statements stressing their admiration for the Khan family; Mr. McConnell called Humayun Khan an “American hero.” And both said they were firmly opposed to banning Muslim immigration, though neither mentioned Mr. Trump, whom they have endorsed for president, by name.
“Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example,” Mr. Ryan said. “His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”
Mr. Trump’s clash with the Khan family threatens to unwind any modest progress he may have made at moderating his campaign and rallying the Republican Party at the outset of the general election. He has sought in recent weeks to play down his proposal to ban Muslim immigration, and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, argued on Sunday that Mr. Trump intended to block immigration based on geography, focusing on nations affected by terrorism.
But Mr. Trump has never withdrawn the idea of a religious test for people entering the country and has repeatedly denied that he was rolling back his plans. And he has not apologized to the Khan family for his comments about Ms. Khan.
Other Republicans went much further than Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell in chiding Mr. Trump. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is seeking re-election, said the Khans deserved the utmost respect: “I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage them and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Sunday that Mr. Trump had crossed another inviolable line. Like his comments about Mr. Curiel, Mr. Graham said, Mr. Trump’s jabs at Mr. and Ms. Khan were entirely unacceptable. “This is going to a place where we’ve never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen,” he said.
He added: “The problem is, ‘unacceptable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado, a Republican who served in combat as a Marine, denounced Mr. Trump’s remarks. Mr. Coffman, who represents a crucial swing district in the Denver suburbs, said Mr. Trump had disrespected American troops.
”Having served in Iraq, I’m deeply offended when Donald Trump fails to honor the sacrifices of all of our brave soldiers who were lost in that war,” Mr. Coffman said.
The pressure on Mr. Trump and other Republicans is unlikely to relent soon. But so far he has flailed and faltered in response.
He first criticized Ms. Khan for not speaking alongside her husband, implying that she had been forbidden from doing so. Facing mounting criticism from Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Trump released a follow-up statement on Saturday night, describing the Khans’ deceased son as a hero, but insisting that Mr. Khan had “no right” to criticize him the way he did in Philadelphia. He made a third attempt to deflect the Khans’ criticism on Sunday, writing on Twitter that the real issue at stake in the election was terrorism.
The Republican vice-presidential nominee, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, appears to be in a particularly awkward position in the uproar. One of his sons is a Marine, a fact he mentions frequently. Mr. Pence’s ability to navigate a racially charged argument between Mr. Trump and a Gold Star family is emerging as his first difficult test as Mr. Trump’s running mate.
So far, Mr. Pence has been silent, and his aides referred requests for comment to Mr. Trump’s campaign staff. Mr. Pence’s sole public comment on Sunday was a post on Twitter about getting his hair cut in Indianapolis.
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