Sen. John McCain said Monday that he does not view himself as a hero but that Donald Trump owes an apology to veterans for his comments about soldiers captured in war. Asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe if Trump owes him an apology, McCain responded: “No, I don’t think so. But I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country.”
“There are so many men, and some women, who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner and somehow to denigrate that, in any way, their service I think is offensive,” he added.
Trump has faced blistering criticism for saying over the weekend that McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years during the Vietnam War, was “a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain said during the exclusive interview with MSNBC that it is his senior officers during the Vietnam War who should be viewed as heroes, not him. “A great honor of my life was to serve in the company of heroes. I’m not a hero,” he said.
McCain also declined to attack Trump for avoiding service in the Vietnam War through a series of deferments. “For me to look back in anger at anyone is nonproductive,” he said. “And our country was divided in an almost unprecedented fashion during the Vietnam War, and when I came home I was shocked. So I’ve worked ever since to try to heal those wounds.”
Despite the controversial comments, recent polls show Trump is leading the race ahead of the other fourteen republicans currently running for president. He has 24 percent support nationwide among republican registered voters, nearly more than the support of his next two rivals combined, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 12 percent.
At the same time, the Des Moines Register published an editorial Monday night calling for Trump to drop out of the race. The Register wrote, “Trump has proven himself not only unfit to hold office, but unfit to stand on the same stage as his republican opponents.”
Trump has refused to apologize for the comment, even as his rivals for the 2016 nomination have called on him to retract it. “I’m not a fan of John McCain,” Trump said in an interview with NBC’s TODAY show Monday morning. “He’s doing a horrible job with the vets.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the remark “slanderous,” and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told NBC News that Trump “needs to apologize.” Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called on Trump to exit the presidential race.
And in a statement Saturday, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee said: “Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period. There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”
In an op-ed in USA Today published Sunday, Trump argued that “the news media are also distorting my words” and doubled down on his criticism of McCain, saying that the Arizona senator has failed to support military veterans during his time in the Senate.
The feud between the former Republican presidential nominee and the real estate mogul started last week, when McCain suggested that Trump’s remarks about immigrants had “fired up the crazies” at a rally in Phoenix. Trump responded in a tweet that McCain was a “dummy” who graduated at the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.
McCain said Monday that he did not intend to offend anyone by using the term “crazies.”
“I thought it was a term of endearment,” he said.