Top Republicans have criticized Trump for comments he has made about the Muslim family of a US soldier killed in Iraq. The taboo attack on military families is stirring a growing backlash.
Donald Trump continued to face a barrage of criticism from across the political spectrum on Monday for remarks targeting the family of a fallen Muslim US Army captain, threatening to tarnish the first week of campaigning after both parties wrapped up their conventions.
The Republican presidential candidate's streak of making controversial statements without denting his support appeared to hit a wall after he broke a major political and social taboo in insulting Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Muslim parents whose son Captain Humayun Khan was killed in combat in Iraq in 2004.
The Khans spoke at the Democratic National Convention last week and criticized Trump's understanding of the constitution, to which Trump has responded with a series of controversial comments widely deemed as racist, sexist and against American military families.
The back-and-forth between Trump and the Khans has since exploded into a media firestorm which the Hillary Clinton campaign has latched onto to hammer the Republican presidential nominee. Trump criticized the Khans in an interview Sunday and again in some tweets Monday, saying he had a right to defend himself against accusations.
On Monday, leading Republicans and a major veterans organization lined up against Trump's comments, even as the billionaire claimed to have "tremendous support" from veterans at a campaign rally.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the country's oldest and largest veterans' association, said in a statement that Trump has a history of lashing out at people, but attacking the families of fallen soldiers was "out of bounds."
"Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression," said Brian Duffy, who leads the organization. "Giving one's life to nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by all Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard."
Gold Star families are those that have lost a close family member in combat.
At least a dozen top Republicans criticized Trump's comments on Monday, including Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In a statement, McCain said Trump's disparaging of a fallen soldier's parents was against the views of the Republican party.
"He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates," McCain, a former prisoner of war, said.
Republican senators from swing states likely to determine the outcome of election also sought to distance themselves from their party's presidential candidate. No Republicans, however, withdrew their support from Trump and a few defended the Khan family while not mentioning Trump by name.
Senator Chuck Grassley, from the swing state of Iowa, said "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."
Senator Ron Johnson, from the battleground state of Wisconsin, said "Capt. Humayun Khan, and all the Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, deserve our deepest respect and gratitude."
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said, "The Khan family, like all Americans who lose loved ones in the defense of our country, deserve our gratitude and honor. Anything else is inappropriate."
President Barack Obama on Monday told a veterans' organization in Atlanta, where he was set to attend a fundraiser for Clinton, that families who have lost someone in the military have sacrificed more than anyone.
"No one has given more to our freedom and our security than our Gold Star families. ... They represent the very best of our country," Obama said.
cw/bw, kl (AFP, AP, dpa)