Ambassador Chris Stevens' Family Didn't Want His Death Politicized, But Donald Trump Went There Anyways
On Monday, real estate magnate and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump finally delivered a speech he'd been promising for a while. What he'd billed as his ultimate take-down of former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a speech that would prove her to be, in his words, a "world-class liar." And while it didn't go that well, some things really stood out ― especially his continued peddling of Benghazi-related conspiracy theories and debunked claims. Simply put, Donald Trump politicized Ambassador Chris Steven's death with little regard for the facts, nor for past requests by his family to keep his name out of campaign politics.
It's not as though Trump hasn't shown a lack of discretion or deference to the facts before, but this example cuts pretty close to the bone, since he's purporting to speak on behalf of Stevens' family. After asserting in his Monday speech that Clinton slept through the Benghazi attacks (which actually began in the afternoon, but hey, who's even keeping track) while Stevens "was left helpless to die," Trump followed it up with a tweet implying, at the very least, that Stevens' family would agree with his dim view of Clinton's "honesty and judgment."
Now, make no mistake, there are definitely relatives of the Americans killed in Benghazi who have spoken out against Clinton, and in no uncertain terms. One of the most prominent examples being Patricia Smith, the mother of slain U.S. officer Sean Smith ― she's been an occasional cable news guest in the years since the attacks, and she's excoriated Clinton as a "proven liar."
She also said she believed President Obama "murdered her son" in a 2012 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune ― the article, by Jeanette Steele and Nathan Max, also notes that Smith attributed that belief to her steady diet of Fox News.
In other words, if Trump was looking for somebody who lost a loved one in the attacks who also wanted to rail against Clinton, he didn't have to reach ― he could've easily found people to do just that. What he did in bringing the Stevens family into it, however, was anything but accurate, considerate, or humane. When Stevens' mother and father have been asked about the politicization of their son's death before, the message they've sent has always been pretty clear: don't.
In advance of the 2012 election, when the Benghazi attacks became a point of attack for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Stevens' father Jan spoke out against his son's name being invoked on the campaign trail, saying, "It would really be abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue," and that "it does not belong in the campaign arena," according to the Daily Mail. Stevens' mother Mary also made it pretty plain back then that she didn't approve of those kinds of attacks, telling CBS News "I don't think it's productive to lay blame on people."
This isn't to say that they'd be wrong to be upset, or to criticize American leadership, or to specifically condemn Clinton if they wanted to. But that's their own choice, and Trump quite deliberately made it sound as if they endorsed (or were in secret agreement with, at the very least) his rabidly antagonistic rhetoric against Clinton.
In simple terms, he appropriated them to score a few political points ― despite, it must again be said, there being plenty of genuinely vociferous Clinton critics he could've called on. It may not be the only thing wrong with his candidacy, sure, but it's nonetheless a remarkably gross little sidebar.