GOP leaders who criticize Trump but still endorse him are the worst kind of hypocrites

Gold Star sacrifice.
Gold Star sacrifice.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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By now, most Americans know about Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents who gave a powerful speech about their son, late Army Captain Humayun Khan, at the Democratic National Convention last week. Waving his pocket Constitution in one hand, Khan, a Muslim American, spoke eloquently of his son’s ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in 2004 and demanded to know why it wasn’t good enough for Trump, who has long been under fire for his controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.

In any other election cycle, respect for the Khan family’s grief and sacrifice would have been immediate, bipartisan, and uncontroversial. But we are not in a typical election cycle, and Donald Trump is not a typical candidate for president.

And so, in what can only be described as an unprecedented lack of empathy and decorum—even by Trump’s standards—he has spent the last 48 hours criticizing the Khans both on Twitter and on cable television.

Unsurprisingly, people on both sides of the political aisle have responded to Trump’s callousness with outrage. But while it is comforting to see Republican leaders take their presidential nominee to task over such disgusting tactics, particularly in an election year, most are still pledging to vote for Trump in November.

This is unacceptable, and honestly, more than a little cowardly. In previous presidential elections, Trump’s disrespect would have resulted in significant loss of confidence from voters and party leadership alike. Missteps of this magnitude have sunk far worthier and sturdier campaigns than Trump’s.

Moreover, remember that despite paying lip service to armed forces personnel, this is not the first time Trump has targeted military families. Last summer, Trump shocked the political world by calling Sen. John McCain a “loser” and a “dummy” because “he was captured.” McCain was held captive as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War for five years, during which time he was tortured. By any objective measure, McCain’s actions were heroic.

Then there was the debacle this spring over Trump’s fundraising efforts for veterans organizations. These organizations waited months for Trump to produce millions of dollars in promised donations, and only then in the face of considerable pressure by the media to account for what happened to the funds.

So why does the Republican Party, which is so fond of touting its history as the party of Abraham Lincoln, continue to give Trump more chances? McCain is actually a pretty good case study. Currently locked in a dead heat for reelection in Arizona, the war hero needs Trump supporters in his state to stay afloat. And so, although McCain issued a strongly-worded denunciation of Trump’s attack on the Khans, he made no attempt to call Trump’s candidacy into question. House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t even mention Trump by name, instead reasserting his support of Muslims Americans who have served in uniform and sympathy for the Khan family. In fact, it seems no Republican elected official has yet rescinded their endorsement in the wake of the Khans controversy. When it comes to Trump, the GOP is all bark, no bite.

On Tuesday (Aug. 3), Trump made yet another gaffe in claiming to “have always wanted a Purple Heart.” The military decoration given to those wounded or killed in combat is not something anyone seeksmuch less flippantly. US president Barack Obama subsequently broke with tradition to publicly declare Trump “unfit” for the position of president during a joint press conference with the prime minister of Singapore. Obama further questioned the integrity of Republicans who continue to support Trump’s candidacy despite his brazen track record of offensive, hateful, and inaccurate statements.

For an outgoing president to speak so unequivocally about a presidential candidate, standing next to a foreign head of state no less, speaks to this election cycle’s rare sense of urgency. But just as importantly, it speaks to the GOP’s profound hypocrisy regarding our women and men in uniform.

It would seem that respect for the military—including refusing to use those who serve as political tactics in elections—carries an exemption granted only to Republicans.

Had Hillary Clinton, or any major Democratic presidential candidate, attacked military parents who had lost their child, the response from Republicans would have been swift and uncompromising. In 2006, then-Sen. John Kerry told an audience of college students: “You make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.” Kerry had actually been referring to former US president George W. Bush’s ill-advised (and illegal) invasion of Iraq. But Republicans claimed that Kerry was calling American troops uneducated. This despite the fact that Kerry himself is a recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor, and three Purple Hearts for his courageous actions in the Vietnam War. Kerry, under pressure, was forced to issue an apology.

For three years, I served in the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, the Army unit tasked with ceremonial burials in Arlington Cemetery. One of our hardest tasks was retrieving the remains of fallen women and men in uniform returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We would travel to Dover Air Force Base in a casket team and ceremoniously unload rectangular metal transfer cases draped in the American flag. They were all the same size. No one looking at these coffins could ascertain the gender or race or religion or sexuality or political views of the fallen warrior. In fact, the only noticeable difference between was that some coffins were significantly lighter than others, containing what little could be recovered of a service member.

For the past week, ever since Khizr Khan waved that pocket Constitution in honor of his son, I’ve been thinking about all those metal cases I helped to carry. The singularity and poignancy of those moments—soldiers of all backgrounds carrying their anonymous sister or brother back home—is something I would hope all political leaders, regardless of party, could finally understand.

In light of recent events, it’s a concept I fear Republican leaders have forgotten.