Trump heaps scorn on hero status

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump, known for his incendiary rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail, has lobbed another verbal grenade by dismissing the military record of Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war.

The billionaire businessman, reality TV star and Republican presidential contender said Mr McCain — a decorated aviator who was tortured in a prison camp for five years — did not deserve hero status for his Vietnam War service.

“He’s not a war hero,” Mr Trump told a gathering of social conservative activists in the Midwestern state of Iowa.

“He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

The 69-year-old has never served in the US military.

He went on to assert that Mr McCain “graduated last in his class” at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in the late 1950s.

Mr McCain, 78, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate against Democratic rival Barack Obama, was captured during a bombing raid over Vietnam in October 1967.

He did not personally react to Mr Trump’s comments, but his daughter, 30-year-old broadcaster Meghan, expressed outrage.

“I can’t believe what I am reading this morning. Horrified. Disgusted. There are no words,” she wrote on her Twitter account.

“I have a brother that just returned from Afghanistan a month ago. Glad he can come home to this being said about his father and his service,” she added with irony.

Mr Trump’s remarks triggered immediate political uproar, as other top Republicans defended Mr McCain’s military record — and in the process tried to cash in on their rival’s faux-pas.

“@SenJohnMcCain is an American hero, period. I’ll denounce any attack against his service and anyone else who wears the uniform. -SW,” said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, like Trump is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ 2012 presidential candidate, wrote: “The difference between @SenJohnMcCain and Trump shot himself down. McCain and American veterans are true heroes.”

Going into the weekend, Mr Trump was the frontrunner in a crowded field of 15 candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.