LITTLE ROCK - Donald Trump’s feud with the parents of a fallen soldier has not caused Arkansas Republican leaders to withdraw their support for him, but it hasn’t sat well with them either.
After Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq, appeared at the Democratic National Convention last month, Trump responded in a series of tweets and interviews to what he called a “vicious attack” against him.
The Republican presidential nominee fired back at Khizr Khan for criticizing his suggestion of a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and questioned whether Ghazala Khan was not “allowed” to speak because she is Muslim.
Some Arkansas Republican leaders said Trump had gone too far. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton told reporters in Little Rock last week that Trump should apologize to the Khans and end the back-and-forth.
Cotton, an Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said of the nation’s thousands of Gold Star parents, “No one deserves our respect and and our honor more than they; no one deserves to be heard more than they.”
But Cotton said he continued to support Trump for president.
“I have spoken to Donald Trump on a couple of occasions in Washington when he’s visited with other senators and congressmen,” he said. “I’ve expressed the need to substantially increase our defense budget. I know he understands that, I know he’ll support that in his first 100 days. I know Hillary Clinton will not.”
Trump’s decision to take on the parents of a slain soldier was reminiscent of his comments last year disparaging Arizona Sen. John McCain’s reputation as a war hero. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said of McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last year Trump “crossed the line” in his comment about McCain. Hutchinson also has criticized Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and his comment that “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Hutchinson did not support Trump during the GOP primary but did endorse him when he became the presumptive nominee, saying that “I’m a team player.” The governor also spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month, as did Cotton.
Last week Hutchinson said he wanted to “disassociate” himself from Trump’s comments about the Khans.
“We ought to be fully supportive of our Gold Star parents and families,” he told reporters. “They’ve sacrificed tremendously. We ought to support them in every way. I would disassociate myself with any comments that are negative toward any of those families.”
U.S. Sen. John Boozman said in a prepared statement, “I believe the statements are out of line and unnecessary. As the son of a career Air Force veteran, my family understood that our father’s service put him in harm’s way and that those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and their families have earned our highest respect and unwavering gratitude.”
Boozman’s re-election bid is being challenged by Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. Eldridge said last week he wondered how Boozman “can still support a nominee who consistently shows no respect for even those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to this country.”
U.S. Reps French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, both said Gold Star families should not be subjected to criticism. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said Westerman “has no comment” on the matter, and a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Democrat Hillary Clinton also has stirred controversy, especially over her use of a private email server to transmit government documents as secretary of state and her various explanations for doing so. Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said Trump’s feud with the Khan family may be more troubling to his supporters than Clinton’s controversies are to hers, however.
“Any sign of disrespect to military families has long been verboten in American politics,” she said.
Parry said Trump’s feud with the Khans appeared to draw more criticism than his comment about McCain, perhaps because McCain is a public figure, “whereas a private family grieving the loss of a child is of a different order.”
But it is no surprise that Arkansas GOP leaders have not withdrawn their support from Trump now that he has secured the nomination, according to Parry.
“They’re stuck. What do you do?” she said.