Despite outcry from much of his own party, Republican nominee Donald Trump has spent the last two days attempting to ridicule Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in the Iraq War. Humayun Khan was honored at the Democratic National Convention by his parents, who urged voters to see their son both as an example of Muslim Americans' patriotism and a clear case as to why Trump's proposals regarding Muslims are so dangerous. Humayun exemplifies their points, but Trump's attacks have continued. Now imagine if the tables were turned, and Hillary Clinton spent days attacking the mother of one of the soldiers killed in Benghazi.
One such mother did indeed speak at the Republican National Convention. Pat Smith, mother to soldier Sean Smith, who was killed in the Benghazi attacks, said during the RNC that she blames "Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son." But instead of berating Smith and telling her that she "had no right" to speak in front of the American public, as Trump claimed regarding Khan, Clinton did the opposite in a Fox News interview on Sunday.
The Democratic candidate showed compassion to the military families for their losses, as any reasonable person would in this situation, saying, "My heart goes out to both of them. Losing a child under any circumstance, especially in this case... I understand their grief and the incredible sense of loss that can motivate that."
Ryan Lizza of the The New Yorker addresses this discrepancy between Clinton and Trump's reactions, simply asking:
If Clinton were to do anything differently, she'd face an unprecedented level of controversy and pressure to drop out of the race. On the other hand, Trump has received some reprimands, but both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have shied from straightforwardly disavowing their nominee's comments. Were Clinton in the hot seat, things on the other side would surely look quite different.
But Trump's attacks on the Khan family, as well as the GOP's unwillingness to completely distance itself from them, have an additional undertone. The Republican Party, in short, has always paraded itself as the party of war, and by extension, the military. From speeches like Smith's to "support our troops" bumper stickers, the GOP has done a fine job of trying to claim military issues and pride for the armed forces as something exclusive to themselves. To have a soldier's family buck that claim, saying that Trump and the Republicans don't speak for them, is to likewise throw that narrative into disarray. The GOP likely doesn't know how to deal with that — and while a study has found that Republicans do outnumber Democrats 2-1 in the military, support for fallen soldiers should show no partisanship.
Trump's comments, therefore, seem to reflect a larger issue within the party. Even though he appears to be going rouge in terms of his focus on Muslim Americans, the idea that the military is a Republican ideal seems to be backed by the party itself.