Imagine a candidate for president of the United States saying that the grieving mother of an American killed in combat is “absolutely wrong,” in her account of the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, taking to a national stage and essentially calling the mother a liar. We might — and should — expect outrage at the candidate’s remarks, amplified for days within the media echo chamber, questioning whether the candidate has the temperament to serve as president.
Yes, it’s a trick question. This episode happened in March, 2016, during a televised debate in which Hillary Clinton swatted down Patricia Smith, whose son Sean Smith was killed in the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission Benghazi, Libya. There was no condemnation for Clinton’s attack on Smith, no string of TV interviews with the grieving mother, no intra-party recriminations.
It illustrates the difference between being named Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who now finds himself facing the consequences of comments he made in response to Khizr Khan, the father of an American Muslim soldier killed in combat in 2004. Khan and his wife took to the stage of the Democratic convention last Thursday and told the tale of their son, ending their story with Mr. Khan waving a copy of the U.S. Constitution while claiming that Trump had never read it.
Trump’s response included voicing his respect for the Khan family, and praise for the Khan’s son and his service to America. But Trump also committed the sins of making a simple observation (Mrs. Khan did not speak at the convention), saying that Mr. Khan does not know Donald Trump (he doesn’t) and that Mr. Khan was mistaken about whether Trump had read the Constitution (he has).
This is the truth. It was also the tinder that ignited the current Trump firestorm with consequences yet to be defined. But instead of correcting the record in the media and defending their presidential nominee, Republicans immediately shifted into Loser Mode. Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have used their television appearances in recent days to correct the deliberate distortions in the media. Instead, they became the latest example of Republicans refusing to be winners.
We always talk about Barack Obama’s apology tour but that is what Republicans are doing every day, and it is silly and selfish; they are trying to make themselves look good while making their nominee look bad. The GOP establishment is oblivious to the facts. Mr. Khan got on a national stage, at the invitation of the Democratic Party, and directly attacked Trump. He said everyone should vote for Hillary Clinton because Trump has sacrificed nothing and has not read the Constitution.
This was not an off the cuff remark in an interview; this was not an Internet forum or a Facebook post or even a simple tweet by someone in the basement of their mother’s home. This was a nationally televised attack, cynically planned and coordinated by Democrats, with a speech that was, no doubt, reworked by party apparatchiks. At that point Mr. Khan ceased to be a simple private citizen who is speaking out. The Khans became a part of the political process.
But for Trump, it’s wrong for him to make an observation or state the obvious. And, in typical fashion, leaders of The Loser Party (commonly known as the GOP) buy into the fake media storyline about what Trump actually said, form their well-practiced circular firing squad and pull the trigger. They stubbornly and stupidly refuse to acknowledge what Trump spent an entire primary process showing Republicans: How to win.
You win by vigorously defending yourself against lies. You win by debunking media nonsense. You win by calling out the opposition for its duplicity. This is what Trump has done. It was how he prevailed among a group of 17 people who sought the GOP presidential nomination. In breaking the old GOP campaign mode, Trump forged a new and winning way of reaching out to voters.
Yet most Republicans shun what it takes to win, falling into their old, failed ways of shrinking from the truth instead of defending it. The Republican leadership didn’t have to cower in a corner, they had the truth on their side: The Khan family spoke to show they were scared of what Donald Trump might do, and Patricia Smith showed she was frightened by what Hillary Clinton did do.
The Trump campaign is still navigating this controversy and it is unclear what the political landscape will look like when the story finally fades. But one thing is certain; the Republican leadership has completely forgotten that elections have consequences: President Hillary Rodham Clinton.