“He’s not a war hero,” billionaire Donald Trump said of John McCain at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Obviously Trump's comments have endured several rounds of criticism from all sides, with a long line of nearly identical retorts from other Republican presidential candidates and even the Republican National Committee. After the extended gladiatorial combat that was the 2012 Republican presidential primary, this instance may be one of the very few in which we should applaud direct and harsh criticism within our own ranks.
Responding on Twitter (since when did our news become who tweeted what, like a conflict-mediation in the high school counselor's office?), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised an especially valid point: “If there was ever any doubt that @realDonaldTrump should not be our commander in chief, this stupid statement should end all doubt.”
Of especial concern to me as a teacher of history is that the real estate mogul's dismissive remarks don't just insult all current P.O.W.s like McCain but previous ones as well. Trump presumably doesn't care for Louis Zamperini, the Olympian hero of the recent film Unbroken who survived brutal treatment for years at the hands of the Japanese in WWII. Same goes for that half-Brit, half-American known far and wide for his cowardice and incompetence in war, Winston Churchill (P.O.W. in the Second Boer War). Or the 22-year-old lieutenant colonel captured at the surrender of his own Fort Necessity in 1754 who later became the first president of the United States (the office Trump happens to be seeking).
Trump's calumny would be somewhat mitigated if he had served himself, but he somehow managed to avoid being drafted during Vietnam with a questionable history of student and medical deferments. He has refused to apologize, however, immediately erecting an I-didn't-say-what-I-said defense after the event in Iowa. For all of Trump's anti-establishment bluster, that's a very typical politician move.
But Trump also can't apologize because that's his shtick. With No Apologies was the memorable title of Barry Goldwater's famous autobiography in 1979, and it's an effective approach to electrify the base you need to support you in next year's primary. (McCain, in an "ain't the world small" moment, won Goldwater's seat as a senator from Arizona when he retired.)
The problem is that the attitude ignores what is actually a fundamental precept of conservatism: Mankind is flawed. We are sinful (if you're religious) and make mistakes (if you're not). Either way, anyone who is locked into a projection of infallibility is refusing to acknowledge their own imperfect nature, which should be a blow to the "I'm most conservative" argument so often employed to win.
Donald Trump is the Newt Gingrich of 2016 -- popular because people love to see the opposition blown up like the Ride of the Valkyries scene at the beginning of Apocalypse Now. But don't expect the detailed tax reform proposals we've seen from Rubio, or the health care reform ideas we've seen from Jindal.
Don't expect someone focused on the whole of the Republican Party either. Trump -- no doubt intentionally -- doesn't dwell on building connections and carefully working with others. Some politicians carry that political game too far and open themselves to justifiable condemnation. But the Founders deliberately designed a system in which no one could run the government alone, forcing a sharing of power.
The way Trump talks, at times including the f-word in descriptions of his proposed negotiations, you don't quite get the sense of Bismarckian nuance when it comes to politics and international relations. Trump is a lot less Tom Hagen and a lot more Sonny Corleone.
That may not be so good for the party, and if the host of The Apprentice were to get the nomination he would be considered its informal leader. But he's already making things harder for the rest of us. If I tell a non-Republican stranger today that I am a Republican, he'd probably assume I have a small shrine to Trump in my bedroom and that I hate those rapist drug dealing immigrants from Mexico.
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture," the Lord says in the Book of Jeremiah. So far Donald Trump has not presented himself as a very good candidate for the job.
R. Olson is the director of communications for the Yolo GOP. He would like you to form your own opinion of the presidential candidates at the Yolo GOP's debate viewing on August 6th, 5:30 PM, at Vince's Mexican Restaurant in Woodland. For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All opinions contained herein are his own and not necessarily those of the Yolo County Republican Party.