Donald Trump attacks John McCain’s Vietnam record
Presidential contender angers Republicans by claiming senator is ‘not a war hero’
Republican presidential contender and businessman Donald Trump. Photograph: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump attacked Arizona senator John McCain’s war record on Saturday, saying the former prisoner in North Vietnam is only considered a war hero because he was captured.
Mr Trump, who has been in a war of words with the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said of McCain: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured.”
His words prompted a strong response from other candidates for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
The former Texas governor Rick Perry said the remarks represented “a new low in American politics” and demanded that Mr Trump “immediately withdraw from the race for president”.
Mr McCain, a navy fighter pilot, was held prisoner in a Hanoi prison for five and a half years after being shot down, and was repeatedly tortured.
Mr Trump received several student deferments from Vietnam while in college.
At a news conference later, Mr Trump softened his comments, saying: “If a person is captured, they are a hero as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr Trump also criticised Mr McCain for failing to do enough in the senate for military veterans.
“John McCain talks a lot, but he doesn’t do anything,” Mr Trump told reporters.
His comments drew swift denunciations from many rival Republican presidential contenders and became the latest in a series of controversies to engulf the billionaire since he entered the race with harsh rhetoric about Mexican immigrants.
The comments were certain to remind party leaders, already nervous about Mr Trump’s recent rise to the top of opinion polls, about his unpredictability ahead of the first Republican debate in early August.
The harsh reaction seemed to indicate that many Republicans had lost patience with the businessman.
“There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honourably,” said Sean Spicer, chief strategist for the Republican national committee.
“Enough with the slanderous attacks,” former Florida governor Jeb Bush said on Twitter.
‘Not a fan’
In a statement released after his appearance, Mr Trump said he was “not a fan” of Mr McCain and added: “I have great respect for all those who serve in our military, including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.”
However, Mr Trump said at the news conference he would not apologise to Mr McCain.
Mr Trump told reporters he used student deferments and later a medical deferment for what he said was a bone spur to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.
“I was not a big fan of the Vietnam War,” he said.
He made the McCain comments during a summit sponsored by Christian conservative groups.
The event’s moderator launched the discussion when he questioned Mr Trump’s recent criticism of Mr McCain as a “dummy,” which came after the senator said Mr Trump’s candidacy had brought out the “crazies”.
“I supported McCain for president,” Mr Trump said.
“He lost and let us down . . . I’ve never liked him as much after that. I don’t like losers.”