Former prisoners of war must take satisfaction at the sight of Republicans rallying to denounce Donald Trump’s idiotic treatment over the weekend of Sen. John McCain, the former POW whom Trump suggested wasn’t much of a hero.
The headlines tell the story: “Trump Takes A Shot At John McCain, And Republicans Push Back,” announced NPR. “Trump’s Criticism of McCain Enrages Fellow Republicans,” declared U.S. News & World Report.
Sen. Marco Rubio, whom McCain dismissed as a finger-in-the-wind politician in a recent interview with The New Yorker, leapt to the Arizona Republican’s defense. “It’s not just absurd,” Rubio said. “It’s offensive. It’s ridiculous. And I do think it is a disqualifier as commander in chief.”
The Republican National Committee issued a statement in a similar spirit: “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.”
Got that? “No place in our party.”
Now, let’s review the Republican response to Trump’s characterization of immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” and criminals. Or, as the headline on this USA Today column put it, “Republicans’ shameful silence on Trump.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was a quiet voice of, well, consternation if not outrage, proved the bravest of the presidential bunch in responding to Trump’s fiesta of bigotry. Most of the Republican presidential candidates let the comments slide, at least for a while. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus used his bully pulpit to say that Trump’s comments were, under the circumstances and considering all the mitigating factors, and meaning no disrespect to Mr. Trump, of course, not the ideal utterances for this particular moment. (His actual response was that Trump’s comments were “not helpful.”)
So it was all well and good for Republicans to denounce Trump for insulting McCain. It was the decent response to a vile statement. Trouble is, the rivers of condemnation flowing now pose a sharp contrast with Republicans’ childlike fidgeting after Trump insulted Mexicans — and, by direct extension, the roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population that is of Mexican descent.
“The contrast was clear,” said immigration activist Frank Sharry by email. “Insult Mexicans, you get a slow and tepid response. Insult McCain, a fast and furious response. It’s clear to Latinos and their allies who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us.’”
It’s hard to tell to what extent Hispanics consider Trump a mouthpiece of the Republican Party. Perhaps not so much. At an awards show on the Spanish-language network Univision last week, Hispanic rapper Pitbull seemed to have a nonpartisan take on the mogul: “I want to tell Marco Rubio, step it up! Jeb Bush, step it up! Hillary Clinton, step it up! Because Donald Trump can’t be president.”
If Hispanics distinguish Trump from his party, or never quite grasp which party he belongs to, Republicans shouldn’t suffer much for his behavior. But the margin of error for Republicans with Hispanics is very small. It’s great that veterans now see the party standing up for one of their own. Hooray for John McCain. But Hispanic voters might like to see Republicans muster the same outrage in their behalf. It hasn’t happened yet.
Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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