By Bonnie K. Goodman
On the last day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Thursday, July 29, 2016, Khizr Khan, the father of slain Capt. Humayun Khan who died in 2004 during the Iraq War from a car bomb, spoke about his son at the convention and criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Khan asked Trump from the stage, “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America – you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Trump never one to let anything insult or slight go went on the attack. At first, Trump dismissed Khan‘s convention comments, saying, Khan “was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me.” Trump repeatedly implied the soldier’s mother, Ghazala Khan who stood beside her husband at the convention but did not speak was not allowed because of her Muslim faith. Trump questioned, “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.”
Mr. Khan first explained it was because of his wife’s blood pressure that she did not speak, then Ghazala Khan explained her silence on MSNBC’s “Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” on Friday, July 29. Mrs. Khan said, “I cannot even come in the room where his pictures are. That’s why when I saw the picture at my back [on stage in Philadelphia] I couldn’t take it, and I controlled myself at that time.”
Trump also claimed the Khans were pawns of the Clinton campaign and that Khan read from a campaign script, saying, “Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s script writers write it?” Trump chose to make himself the victim in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, taped on Saturday, July 30 and aired on Sunday, July 31, claiming, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard… Created thousands and thousands of jobs” and “built great structures.” Trump also defended his response on Twitter, writing, “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”
Forgotten from Trump remarks was that he told ABC News affiliate WSYX-TV in Columbus, Ohio that he had “great honor” for the fallen Captain Khan who the GOP nominee also called a “hero.” Later Trump’s running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence issued a statement, “Donald Trump and I believe that Captain Humayun Khan is an American hero and his family, like all Gold Star families, should be cherished by every American…. Donald Trump will support our military and their families and we will defeat the enemies of our freedom.” Pence also blamed Obama and Clinton for terrorist organization ISIS, which is at the heart of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.
The remarks insulted not only the Khans but also military and gold star families. Khan, however, chose to fight back at Trump each time baiting him on a Sunday, July 31 on CNN’s “New Day” where he expressed, “The world is receiving us like we’ve never seen. They have seen the blackness of his character, of his soul.” On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Khan said Trump “lacks” a “moral compass” and has “no empathy.”
The Khans did not stop playing the moment to the maximum making a media firestorm. While Khizr Khan attacked Trump, his wife explained her silence in heroic fashion. Ghazala Khan even wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post published on Sunday, July 31, “Without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart.”
Clinton also used the moment to her advantage saying in a speech at Cleveland Church on Sunday, July 31, “Mr. Khan paid the ultimate sacrifice in his family, didn’t he? And what has he heard from Donald Trump? Nothing but insults and degrading comments about Muslims – a total misunderstanding of what made our country great, religious freedom, religious liberty. It’s enshrined in our Constitution, as Mr. Khan knows because he’s actually read it.” Concluding, “I think this is a time” for Republicans “to pick country over party.”
On Monday, Aug. 1, Mr. Khan appeared on NBC’s Today show continuing his barrage on the GOP nominee, “This candidate amazes me. His ignorance – he can get up and malign the entire nation, the religions, the communities, the minorities, the judges and yet a private citizen in this political process.… I cannot say what I feel?”
Trump again responded on Twitter on Monday, Aug. 1, writing, “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!” Another tweet said, “This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!” Later in the evening, Trump appeared on Fox News‘ “Hannity,” saying, “If I were president, his son wouldn’t have died because we wouldn’t be in a war. I wouldn’t have been in the war.”
Although Trump was right to point out, Clinton was more to blame for Khan’s death because she voted for the Iraq War as a New York Senator, Trump faced a backlash from his party and the American public. Arizona Senator and veteran John McCain and Jeb Bush both condemned Trump’s remarks on the Khans. McCain released a statement on Aug. 1, claiming, “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement.”
Trump also faced criticism from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on his Muslim travel ban. McConnell expressed on July 31, “I agree with the Khans and families across the country that a travel ban on all members of a religion is simply contrary to American values.” Ryan also praised the Khans and criticized the travel ban; however, neither revoked their endorsement for the GOP nominee.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room,” I believe these Gold Star families are off limits, and they’re to be loved and cherished and honored.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who was on the short list for Trump’s VP running also criticized the nominee, calling his remarks “inappropriate.”
President Barack Obama also stepped into the controversy defending the Khans on Aug. 1, saying, “no one has given more for our freedom and our security than our Gold Star families.” The next day, on Tuesday, Aug. 2 Obama called Trump “unfit” for the presidency during a press conference. Obama also called for Republican leaders to withdraw their endorsements, “If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? There has to come a point at which you say, ‘enough.'”
The public also disapproved of Trump’s reaction, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 56 percent of voters strongly disapproved of Trump’s remarks about the Khans, with 6 out of 10 Republican also disapproving. No matter the response and backlash; Trump had no regrets. The GOP nominee told ABC7 in an interview on Aug. 2, “I said nice things about the son, and I feel that very strongly but of course I was hit very hard from the stage and you know it’s just one of those things, but no I don’t regret anything.”