On Thursday, a Muslim-American named Khzir Khan offered what may have been the most stirring, impactful speech of the entire Democratic National Convention, at least as far as speeches by non-politicians go. Khan, 62, took to the stage to offer some remembrance, and to tell the country his son's story: Captain Humayun Khan, who was slain while investigating a car bomb in Iraq in 2004, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. And it clearly had exactly the effect the Democrats had hoped ― Khzir Khan's DNC speech scared Donald Trump, and you need look no further than his Twitter feed to see that.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump's Twitter has been a virtually never-ending source of insults, defensive rebukes, convenient misstatements, and furious bombast. Simply put, if you're a known figure and you get in the way of Trump's political message ― or if you even just speak or act in a way that offends his sensibilities, or helps Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ― then he might have something to say about you, blared out to his more than 10 million followers.
And make no mistake, after the searing indictment Khan offered to a national TV audience ― he told Trump "you have sacrificed nothing," questioned whether he'd ever even read the U.S. Constitution, and then pulled out his own pocket copy to incredible dramatic effect ― he probably wanted to hit back. At least, that's what his previous track record would suggest.
And yet, no incendiary Twitter response was forthcoming. Over the course of the DNC, Trump has tweeted disparagingly about Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, sitting President Barack Obama, and of course, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. And yet, two of the most powerful speakers slipped by without a word: First Lady Michelle Obama and Khan.
And while only Trump himself knows why he wasn't furiously tweeting about Khan on Thursday, who denounced him in about as firm and unapologetic terms as there are, it's very easy to arrive at a particular conclusion ― that the notoriously on-the-attack GOP nominee realized that he'd been beat. That the simplicity, righteousness, and purity of the message Khan sent in that moment, speaking with dignity, stoicism, and moral force as the father of a fallen Muslim-American war hero couldn't be effectively rebuked with the usual juvenile attacks or casual smears. More to the point, to try to do so would be politically damaging in the extreme.
In other words: Trump was scared of what might happen if he crossed that line, and it doesn't seem all that easy to make him think that way. Of course, there are some other possible explanations ― maybe his top aide and strategist Paul Manafort grabbed his phone, and threw it over the side of Trump Tower?
Regardless, Khan's statements both about Trump and to Trump are probably going to loom large in the weeks and months to come. Political conventions can be a mixed bag as far as producing moments that have relevance and impact on a broader general electorate. But that frozen image of Khan, stern-faced as he held his visibly well-worn pocket Constitution aloft with his right hand, is as iconic and unforgettable as anything the Democratic convention produced.
In other words, Trump hasn't escaped Khan's condemnation ― to the contrary, you can expect the Clinton campaign to keep reminding people about it, giving Trump plenty more chances to put his foot in his mouth.