Aspen Security Forum: McCain says Trump ‘impugned’ all prisoners of war |

Aspen Security Forum: McCain says Trump ‘impugned’ all prisoners of war

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Sen. John McCain, who was interviewed Saturday by Lesley Stahl at the Aspen Security Forum, said he didn't feel stung by Donald Trump's remarks, but other veterans didn't deserve to hear them.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times |

McCain on the record

During an interview by Leslie Stahl on Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum, Sen. John McCain didn’t just talk about Donald Trump. Here’s what he said about major world issues.

On the Iran deal

• “It was obvious that John Kerry and Barack Obama and wanted an agreement much more than the Iranians wanted an agreement and that followed throughout this agreement, in my view.”

• “Although it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it should be called a treaty, but it’s an agreement. ... The next president of the United States can cancel an agreement. You can’t cancel a treaty. But you can cancel an agreement.”

On the U.S. fighting ISIS abroad

• “The reason why it’s our fight is because it’s going to be a threat to the United States of America. They don’t think they can’t they can take us, but they do want to attack us. ... But first you’ve got to beat them on the ground.”

On Hillary Clinton’s email

• “First off, it was an obvious mistake. ... But now the latest news is that the inspector has found that classified information might have been in that server. That changes everything.”

Just how serious of a presidential candidate is Donald Trump? Interviewer Lesley Stahl held off asking that question to Sen. John McCain for about 30 minutes Saturday, as the talk focused on the Iran deal, the Islamic State, the Middle East and the latest on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s classified emails, among other topics.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, the Arizona senator said he wasn’t personally bothered by Trump’s July 18 remarks to an Iowa audience that McCain, 78, only was “a war hero because he was captured.” But McCain said other prisoners of war didn’t deserve Trump’s attack, whom polls show leading the field of the 16 announced GOP candidates so far. Trump also said he likes “people that aren’t captured.”

“My hero is Teddy Roosevelt,” McCain said. “Teddy Roosevelt made the famous quote about the man in the arena. I’m in the arena, so I’ll take it, and that’s what it is. I understand that.

“But the reason why I was angry, and I think so many Americans were angry, is he has impugned all of those who were prisoners of war.”

Among those prisoners of war was a blind 93-year-old World War II veteran who McCain said he recently met.

“I don’t think that man deserves any type of criticism from anybody, much less Donald Trump, so that’s where my view came, from where I became disturbed,” he said.

McCain, whose capture during the Vietnam War has been well-chronicled over years, said he’s “not interested in dredging all that up again.”

“It should be behind us,” he said.

Even so, McCain said Trump has resonated with a voter base that doesn’t trust or have confidence in the U.S. government.

“He has tapped into a dissatisfaction amongst the American people that the government isn’t working for them,” McCain said. “So when he rants about it and says, ‘I’m going to go to Washington; I’m going to throw them all out,’ that appeals to them. Do I agree with him? No.”

The senator noted that a combination of events this month — from the escape of Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, to the shooting death of a San Francisco woman by a criminal from Mexico who had been deported several times — have played into Trump’s hand.

“I think that we all ought to understand what Mr. Trump has been able to do, and that is he’s been able to tap into a vein, a strong sentiment amongst many Americans that, No. 1, that our borders are broken and we need secure borders,” McCain said. “There are ranchers in the southern part of my state who have people going across their property every night. There are guides on mountaintops in Arizona that are guiding drug smugglers and human traffickers as they go up and get to Tucson and then spread all over the country.

“And my constituents are mad about it. Then you have El Chapo escaping, and you have this tragic death of this woman in San Francisco, and you have a volatile little mixture from which Donald Trump appeals to.”

Stahl, a reporter for “60 Minutes,” asked McCain what advice he would give Trump’s opponents when they square off during a Republican presidential-candidate debate Aug. 6 in Cleveland. Ganging up on Trump would backfire, McCain said, and candidates should simply ignore him and get their message out.

If Trump follows through on his remarks to leave the GOP for a third-party candidacy, it wouldn’t bode well for the Republican Party, McCain said.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if he took 10 percent out of the Republican vote, it would be very difficult to overcome,” McCain said. “It really would. I think it’s very possible. He’s hinted at that in some of his comments when he’s not beating up on me, or (George W.) Bush or (John) Kerry or the target du jour.”

McCain also was self-effacing at times during the Trump talk, to the delight of the audience.

“Anybody who runs for president of the United States of America is a candidate who cannot be ignored,” he said. “Do I believe (Trump) appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans? No, I don’t. In 2007, my candidacy was declared dead. We weren’t even mentioned. But we were able to come back and lose in 2008.”

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