What has gone underplayed in today's widespread outrage over Donald Trump's dismissal of John McCain's war heroism is that the GOP national-poll front-runner's comments, besides demonstrating an idiocratic lack of basic human judgment and decency, are also dead wrong.
Because this is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is a vulgar anti-intellect who cannot string a coherent paragraph together, his full statement contradicts itself several times within 57 short words. So let's just focus on the bolded part from his remarks:
He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured—OK, I hate to tell ya. He's a war hero because he was captured, OK? And I believe perhaps he is a war hero, but right now, he said some very bad things about a lot of people.
As someone who wrote a very critical book about the Arizona senator, titled McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, I am more familiar than most television entertainers with the weak points in John McCain's record. His experience as a POW is not one of them. Back in October 2008, the people making the McCain's-no-hero arguments were not Republican presidential contenders, but liberal journalists, such as those who work for Rolling Stone. As I responded to their findings back then in the L.A. Times,
[T]he most pertinent part of McCain's heroism [is that by] all accounts, his noisy resistance to everyday humiliations, and his profane outburst at a made-for-propaganda Christmas service in 1968, gave great strength to his fellow POWs. McCain was an inveterate communicator in Hanoi, tapping code like mad to keep his comrades' spirits up and even acting as chaplain when conditions in the prisons started to improve.
Which is to say, the main driver of McCain's heroism was not the fact of his capture, it's how he comported himself under circumstances more trying than 99.9% of us could imagine, let alone endure. And let's remember that, as I wrote in the LAT piece, "According to John G. Hubbell's book, 'P.O.W.,' 'No American reached Hoa Lo in worse physical condition than McCain.'" The guy still can't comb his own hair due to the injuries he suffered in Hanoi, and yet he gave great comfort and inspiration to his fellow prisoners under duress.
Trump's hostility to the factual universe is not breaking news—he's been wandering around the country making shit up about Syrian Christian refugees being banned from the U.S., Mexico conducting a Mariel-style prison-emptying exercise across its northern border, and so on. The question is, when do Republicans decide to start caring, and/or acknowledge the viruses within their own ranks that reward and stoke such atavistic behavior?
… but who a few hours later was re-tweeting a Weekly Standard piece with the headline "Trump GOP Candidacy Blows Up." Before today, all it took to reject any possibility of Donald Trump adding value to the 2016 presidential race was listening to the fool speak for five minutes, or not sharing his inaccurate obsessions about rapey Mexicans, or not seeking to use him as some savantish ploy to blow apart the whole system, man. The Bill Kristols of the world should always know better, and yet they way too often do not.
Rupert Murdoch, who has been dinging the Donald on immigration, may have tweeted tonight "When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?", but his Fox News chief Roger Ailes (my ex-boss, not that I've ever met the guy) reportedly broke bread with his networks' frequent guest for a long lunch right before he announced his candidacy. I can testify from personal experience that Trump's narcissistic blurts are sometimes treated with a wholly undeserved on-air respect at 1211 Avenue of the Americas. It's almost as if Dr. Frankenstein is becoming belatedly alarmed at the activities of his monster.
As for grassroots voters and the politicians who compete for them, the situation is both more complicated and more predictable. As I pointed out in my typology of GOP anti-establishmentarianism, there is a class of outsider contender whose very selling proposition is that they'll say any damned thing:
These are candidates, typically though not always from far outside the corridors of power, whose very existence in the race, however theoretical, is a thumb in the eye of both the media and the Establishment. They tend to be unpolished culture warriors who make constant headlines with provocative and hyperbolic statements, often about matters of next to zero concern for the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania. […]
Ben Carson is this year's pre-eminent Petulant thus far, with the ghost of Donald Trump's hair long behind him…. Ted Cruz has more than a toe in this camp as well
Hmm, let's see who were the two presidential candidates to not come out swinging at Trump's McCain comments? Here's Ben Carson's Clintonesque statement:
It depends on your definition of a war hero. I think he has done some wonderful things, certainly history is consistent with what we would consider a war hero…Do we take that away from him because some people disagree with him politically? I think that's probably stupid.
And here's Cruz:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been perhaps the loudest defender of Trump's remarks about immigrants and met privately with Trump a few days ago in New York, refused to condemn Trump over his comments about McCain.
Cruz said that he considers McCain a friend and "an American war hero" and that it is an honor to serve with him in the Senate. But he said he would not criticize another Republican candidate, including Trump.
"I recognize that folks in the press love to see Republican-on-Republican violence, so you want me to say something bad about Donald Trump or bad about John McCain or bad about anyone else," Cruz told reporters here. "I'm not going to do it. John McCain is a friend of mine. I respect and admire him and he's an American hero. And Donald Trump is a friend of mine."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is a different brand of anti-establishmentarian, tweeted today that "I don't always see eye to eye with @SenJohnMcCain. But I honor his service and the sacrifices he made for our country." The rest of the GOP field has been virtually unanimous in its scorn.
In the run-up to and aftermath of the November 2012 presidential election, I roundly mocked those on the journalistic left who portrayed the Obama vs. Romney contest as a partisan contest between virtuous truth and ignoble lies. If Republican voters reward the type of grotesque behavior coming out of the pinched mouth of Donald Trump, they will have come to fully inhabit their own caricuature.