WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Republicans' swift condemnation of Donald Trump's disparaging comments approximately Sen. John McCain's military service marks a turning point in the party's cautious approach to the billionaire-turned-presidential candidate.
But Trump simply may not care; indeed he seemed to bask in his McCain takedown.
After dismissing McCain's reputation as a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam & "I like people who weren't captured," Trump declared "I will say what I want to say." He insisted he would stay in the GOP primary field, despite rivals who say he's now shown he doesn't merit the presidency.
p>"It's not just absurd," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. "It's offensive. It's ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief."
Numerous other GOP candidates, including Jeb Bush, Rick Perry & Scott Walker, were similarly critical of Trump. The Republican National Committee moreover put its thumb on the scale, issuing a statement saying "there is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably."
As the furor unfolded, Trump spoke dismissively of his rivals & the GOP establishment in an interview with The Associated Press, recalling his years of helping to bankroll candidates.
FILE – In this July 11, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at F …
"You know the Republican Party – of course I was one of their darlings when I was a contributor," he said. "I went from a darling to somebody that they're not pleased with because I'm not a politician."
Asked whether he now thought McCain was a war hero, Trump merely referred to his previous day's comments, when he said "perhaps" he was while seeming to mock McCain for being captured.
Until now, Republicans have been largely cautious in their handling of Trump & his provocations.
While officials privately fretted approximately the damage he could do to the party, they are moreover worried approximately alienating voters drawn to his celebrity, brashness & willingness to take on establishment Republicans. He's emerged as one of the favorites early in a race that is bound to see shifts in the standing of many of the candidates.
Trump has made other eyebrow-raising comments since declaring his candidacy, most notably his assertion that Mexican immigrants are rapists & drug dealers. Many GOP candidates were slow & halting in their response to those comments, underscoring a continuing struggle to hit the right notes on immigration when they want to appeal to Hispanics without alienating traditional GOP voters.
FILE – In this fall 1967 file photo, John McCain is administered to at a Hanoi, Vietnam hospital as …
But for a party that prides itself on its support for the military, Trump's comments approximately McCain were an effortless opening. McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war, enduring torture & refusing release ahead of fellow captives.
Democrats reminded voters approximately the tepid response to his earlier bombast. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was shameful "that it took so long for most of his fellow Republican candidates to start standing up to him."
Trump noted he received a standing ovation after his remarks to a religious conservative forum in Iowa & told AP "when I left the room, everybody thought I gave the best presentation of anybody." But his comments approximately McCain drew a smattering of boos, his rivals received standing ovations, too, & when some of them spoke up for McCain in their remarks, they received hearty applause.
To some Republicans, Trump will have a detrimental effect on other candidates.
"It's all Trump, all the time," said Matt Strawn, the former Iowa GOP chairman. For candidates still introducing themselves to voters & trying to qualify for the party's first debate Aug. 6, Strawn said, "it is all yet impossible for them to cut through the Trump noise." Although polls this early in a presidential contest are of dubious reliability, they are being used to determine who can come to the debate, & Trump appears likely to make the cut.
FILE – In this Sept. 14, 1973, file phot, John McCain is greeted by President Richard Nixon, left, i …
Pennsylvania GOP chairman Rob Gleason doesn't mind the fuss kicked up by Trump.
"Now there's more people interested in what the Republican Party has to say," Gleason said. "It's all good."
Also looming over the GOP: The prospect Trump could run as a third-party candidate if he doesn't win the GOP nomination. Trump declined to rule that out Saturday.
GOP pollster Frank Luntz said Trump could siphon off enough votes as a third-party candidate to cost the party the White House.
"If you tell me Trump is running as an independent, I will tell you that the next president will be Hillary Clinton," said Luntz, a moderator at the Iowa forum who asked Trump approximately McCain being a war hero.
Rick Perry, one of the few veterans running for president, said Trump has demonstrated he has neither the character nor the temperament for the White House. "Over the top," the former Texas governor said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''Really offensive." Bush tweeted, "Enough with the slanderous attacks."
Trump pressed ahead Sunday with his critical remarks on McCain, who had no comment. He said the senator has been "all talk, no action" on looking after military veterans. McCain stirred Trump's anger last week when he said Trump's comments approximately immigrants had "fired up the crazies" at a Phoenix rally.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Steve Peoples & Calvin Woodward contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
Donald TrumpJohn McCainRepublicans
Source: “Associated Press”