GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump continued to disgrace himself over the past five days, feuding with the parents of fallen Captain Humayun Khan and revealing shocking ignorance about a foreign policy challenge the next president will face.
The response from prominent Iowa Republicans has been inadequate (in the case of Trump's insulting comments about Khizr and Ghazala Khan) or nonexistent (in the case of his latest statements about Russia and Ukraine).
Every Republican candidate or office-holder in this state, aside from #NeverTrump State Senator David Johnson, should answer the following questions.
1: Does insulting the parents of a man who died serving this country raise any doubts for you about Trump's psychological fitness for office?
Almost any human being would be moved by Khizr Khan's emotional speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. Trump could have acknowledged the family's loss and moved on. Instead, he issued a statement saying, "While I feel deeply for the loss of his son, Mr Khan, who has never met me, has no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things." Derek Mead noted that Trump had unwittingly made "one of the greatest First Amendment jokes in history."
Trump compounded the problem during his Sunday interview with ABC News:
Trump appeared to try to brush the speech aside, saying that Khizr Khan "was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me."
Trump also said, "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."
Regarding the part of Khan's convention speech calling out Trump directly ("You have sacrificed nothing and no one"), Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, "I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs."
Politicians and commentators from both parties condemned Trump's remarks. But the candidate couldn't let it go. On Sunday, he tweeted, "Captain Khan, killed 12 years ago, was a hero, but this is about RADICAL ISLAMIC TERROR and the weakness of our "leaders" to eradicate it!" A short while later, he added, "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!"
Trump kept digging the hole deeper on Monday: "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!" But wait! There's more: "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!" Aside from paid surrogates for the Trump campaign, who thinks this is normal political discourse?
To my knowledge, no prominent Iowa Republicans commented on Trump's feud with the Khans until journalists asked them about it. Excerpts from the statement U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley released:
“We ought to honor anybody who fought to maintain our freedoms, no matter what race, religion or background," Sen. Grassley wrote in a statement. "We owe them and their families the utmost respect. I’m proud to be friends with a family of Muslim faith from Cedar Falls whose son served as an officer in our armed forces. He was proud to serve, and I am proud to know him. Mr. Trump’s comments are not in line with my own beliefs about how the members of the military and their families should be treated, and respect for the people who serve our country is something both presidential campaigns could use more of."
The Des Moines Register's William Petroski reported reaction from Senator Joni Ernst and Representative David Young, as well as from Grassley:
Ernst, an Iowa Republican who commanded Iowa National Guard troops in the Iraq war, issued a statement Monday praising Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, and his family.
But Ernst offered no criticism of Trump's repeated squabbling with the fallen service member's parents. The senator, who is a retired lieutenant colonel, gave enthusiastic speeches at Trump's campaign rallies last week in Cedar Rapids and Davenport, describing her reverence for the military and declaring that Democratic presidential nominee Clinton was unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.
“We as a nation are incredibly grateful to Captain Khan's service and ultimate sacrifice — as well as the sacrifices of his parents — to keep us safe and free. We must always honor our veterans and their families; many have endured far more than we can ever imagine, and we must always remember to express our gratitude," [U.S. Senator Joni] Ernst said Monday. [...]
"There is no religious litmus test on the respect we owe those men and women who have served in the armed forces of this great nation and for the cause of freedom. Captain Khan is a hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice with his service to America. I honor his memory and I offer his parents the unconditional thanks for his honorable and faithful service from a grateful nation," [Representative David] Young said.
At his regular Monday press conference, Governor Terry Branstad characterized Trump's actions as a "mistake":
"First of all, I just think that anyone that has died in the service of our country is a hero. And I think that was was a mistake. I believe the focus needs to be on the differences that he has with Hillary Clinton in terms of policies."
Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson published more quotes from the same press conference:
Branstad is not recommending that Trump apologize.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Branstad said. “I’m just saying he needs to focus on the issues that are important to the American people. I saw him do that effectively in both Davenport and Cedar Rapids. I think that’s where the campaign needs to be.”
Trump campaigned last Thursday in eastern Iowa. He’s due in Des Moines on Friday. Branstad has met with Trump and advised the Republican presidential candidate to be “focused and disciplined.”
“I’ve been through a few campaigns and I understand there’s a lot of people who are going to try to set traps for you and all those kinds of things, but I think you’ve got to be very disciplined and very careful,” Branstad said. [...]
“You know how these things go,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “You’re going to get asked a lot of questions and I think it’s important that you, as the candidate, always to try to bring the focus back to the things that are important to the American people which are jobs, restoring fiscal responsibility and protecting the safety of America and this administration has ignored the real threat we have from ISIS and Islamic militant terrorists.”
We're way beyond "mistake" territory. Trump isn't merely displaying an inexperienced candidate's inability to stay on message. Responding to gold star parents the way he did indicates he may not be normally constructed, psychologically.
Khizr Khan suggested Trump lacks empathy. Clinton hinted at the same problem, telling a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio, "Someone who attacks everybody has something missing. I don’t know what it is. I’m not going to get into that." Josh Marshall speculated at Talking Points Memo,
You will never win a fight savaging the parents of a dead soldier. So it's a fight you simply don't engage in. A smart terrible person would get this and say something along the lines of the quote I noted above. Trump doesn't seem terribly bright. But this isn't about intelligence as we test it with logic puzzles. Realizing that this would be the only way to respond requires a level of self-awareness a narcissist lacks and a degree of impulse control Trump simply does not have. Empathy or any moral consciousness would get you there too. [...]
As I've noted in so many contexts, the need to assert dominance is at the root of all of Trump's actions. His whole way of understanding the world is one made up of dominators and the dominated. [...]
For a narcissist like Trump, the rage and emotional disequilibrium of being dominated, humiliated is simply too much to bear. He must lash out. What he said in one of his tweets responding to the Khans is perhaps the most telling. "I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond?" The use of the adverb "viciously" is a good tell that Trump is a narcissist. But setting that aside, most people would know that the answer is "No, you're not." Certainly you're not allowed to respond in the sense of attacking back. Their son died serving the country. You don't get to attack them. Someone with a moral consciousness who is capable to empathy would understand this through a moral prism. A smart terrible person would understand it as a matter of pragmatism. Smart terrible people spend time to understand human behavior, even if the moral dimension of it is invisible to them or a matter of indifference. Just as importantly, they have impulse control.
While we can't diagnose Trump's mental health, we should demand more from Grassley, Ernst, Young, and Branstad--as well as from Representatives Rod Blum and Steve King, who to my knowledge have said nothing about Trump's feud with the Khans. Disagreeing with how Trump has spoken about gold star parents is not sufficient. Republican leaders who are voting for Trump and urging fellow Iowans to do the same need to address Trump's fitness to lead. As Iowa Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack told the Des Moines Register, "If there were any lingering questions about Trump's temperament and judgment to be commander-in-chief, his latest statement [about the Khans] should put that to rest and disqualify him from serving our nation." So far, no prominent Iowa Republican has addressed the heart of the matter.
Other news from the last few days prompt more questions for Trump's enablers in positions of power, such as:
2: Does Trump's ignorance about Russian intervention in Ukraine concern you?
The Khan controversy overshadowed what should be a national scandal.
"He's not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want," Trump said in an interview on Sunday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."
"Well, he's already there, isn't he?" Stephanopoulos responded, in a reference to Crimea, which [Russian President Vladimir] Putin took from Ukraine in early 2014.
Trump said: "OK -- well, he's there in a certain way. But I'm not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you're talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he's going away. He takes Crimea."
Trump tried to cover his mistake on Monday, tweeting, "When I said in an interview that Putin is 'not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down,' I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea!" More creative spin: "So with all of the Obama tough talk on Russia and the Ukraine, they have already taken Crimea and continue to push. That's what I said!"
Nice try, but that's clearly not what Trump said. By the way, since the Soviet Union broke up, it's not accurate to speak of "the Ukraine" anymore. World leaders and diplomats are careful to refer to the independent country as "Ukraine" without the definite article.
Iowa's own Sam Clovis, national Trump campaign co-chair and supposedly a leading policy adviser to the presidential nominee, offered up a different explanation:
“I think, you know, I’ve run for office and I would — the phenomena I thought of when I was listening to the interview, Mr. Trump was thinking about something else and he answered the question when he was thinking about something else,” Sam Clovis told MSNBC, adding, “I’m not trying to offer an excuse. But I will say, this is the — this is — the circumstance sometimes that, that — that happens. I think what was really at the heart of this.”
I'm sure Clovis would be just as understanding if a Democratic candidate for president revealed profound ignorance about a major global event. Thankfully, we'll never need to find out, because Clinton cannot be stumped on any foreign (or domestic) policy question.
Trump's recent statements about Russia and Ukraine raise more questions his endorsers should answer.
3: Should our country's leader be as unconcerned about Russian aggression as Trump appears to be?
In a situation without precedent, Trump owns businesses that may be heavily indebted to Russian entities, and chose a campaign manager (Paul Manafort) who lobbied for years on behalf of a Russia-backed Ukrainian leader. The campaign then pushed for GOP platform language softening the U.S. position on Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Speaking to the New York Times earlier this month, Trump refused to commit to defending Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania if Russia invaded their territory, even though those Baltic states are now our NATO allies.
At his July 27 press conference, Trump said "we'll be looking" at whether to recognize Crimea "as Russian territory" and lift U.S. sanctions against Russia. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake explained why that was a "remarkable" thing for a presidential candidate to say.
Speaking to ABC on Sunday, Trump said, "The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also." Presumably Trump heard that from Manafort, who has neither confirmed nor denied that he is still being paid to work for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.
At an Ohio rally yesterday, Trump appeared to accept Russian control over Crimea, saying "Do you want to have World War III to get it back? That was during Obama's watch."
I can't think of a better way to invite further Russian aggression than saying the U.S. might recognize the annexation of Crimea and might not respond militarily to a Baltic invasion--with the possible exception of praising Putin as "so smart" for starting his push for Ukrainian territory right after the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Grassley, Ernst, Branstad and others need to explain why Americans should roll the dice on putting Trump in the White House, when Trump is so amenable to Russian desires to expand its territory.
4: Does it worry you that Trump invited foreign espionage against a political opponent?
The biggest headlines from Trump's July 27 press conference grew out of these extraordinary remarks:
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference here in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Somehow, Branstad and Ernst escaped questions about that issue while campaigning for Trump in Iowa on July 28. But they and other Republican endorsers should explain why they will vote for a candidate who urged a foreign power to hack into a former secretary of state's computer. Especially since the extent of Trump's dependence on Russian capital to keep his businesses going is not yet known, and Putin has a history of using Russian corporations to help achieve his political goals.
5: Do you condone Trump's refusal to release his tax returns?
For decades, presidential candidates from both major parties have released their tax returns. GOP nominee Mitt Romney was less forthcoming in 2012, and Trump has followed Romney's lead. Trump keeps saying he can't release his tax return because it's under audit. But at a rally for Clinton in Omaha yesterday, billionaire investor Warren Buffett offered to release his own tax return (which is under audit) at a joint event with Trump. In any event, Trump hasn't allowed journalists to view his past tax returns, for which audits were long ago completed.
He could be hiding his tax returns for fear of revealing: that he is less wealthy than the image he has cultivated; that he hasn't donated as much to charity as he has claimed; that he pays very little in taxes relative to his income; that he is heavily in debt to foreign banks or corporations. Any of those concerns would be relevant information for voters. Don't Branstad, Grassley, Ernst, and other leading Iowa Republicans agree? And if not, why not?
6: Do you share Trump's concern that the election might be "rigged" against him?
Jonathan Lemire reported for the Associated Press on August 1,
"I'm afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest," the Republican nominee told a town hall crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He added that he has been hearing "more and more" that the election may not be contested fairly, though he did not elaborate further.
Trump made the claim after first suggesting that the Democrats had fixed their primary system so Hillary Clinton could defeat Bernie Sanders. [...]
The celebrity businessman — who has been known to dabble in conspiracy theories, including claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and, more recently, that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was an associate of President John F. Kennedy's assassin — also claimed that the Republican nomination would have been stolen from him had he not won by significant margins. [...]
He repeated the charge Monday night on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," saying: "November 8th, we'd better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it's going to be taken away from us."
Trump appears to be laying the groundwork to refuse to accept defeat in November. Iowa Republicans need to be put on record now: will they accept the general election outcome as legitimate?
Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread.