DES MOINES — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is due back in Iowa for a campaign event later this week, touched off a partisan prairie fire Monday over his criticism of the parents of a fallen U.S. Muslim soldier who spoke out against Trump at last week’s Democratic National Convention.
Gov. Terry Branstad told Iowa reporters Trump made a mistake by raising questions about the mother of fallen U.S. soldier Humayun Khan, but he declined to weigh in on whether Trump should apologize for disparaging a Gold Star family, saying he would prefer the GOP candidate stay focused on 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
After the couple’s convention appearance in Philadelphia, Trump questioned why Capt. Khan’s mother, Ghazala Khan, did not speak as her husband delivered a sharp rebuke of the GOP nominee’s proposed Muslim ban, offering an explanation that “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”
Ghazala Khan responded with a Washington Post Op-Ed column where she described the pain of losing her son that she says makes it difficult for her to speak about her loss in public.
On Monday, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire called Trump’s comments “despicable and disgraceful” in demanding that Iowa Republicans publicly condemn the GOP presidential standard-bearer’s “hateful rhetoric” in criticizing the mother of a fallen U.S. soldier.
“By disrespecting one military family, Trump disrespects all military families,” McGuire said in a statement.
“Cpt. Khan gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country. We should always honor his memory and his family for his brave service,” she added. “Iowans deserve to know if their leaders are going to stand up against bigotry and fight for our military and their families. It is not enough to simply disagree with Trump or call his comments, ‘a mistake.’”
In response to a request for comment Sen. Joni Ernst, a Red Oak Republican and a former officer in the Iowa National Guard with combat experience during her 23-year military career, said: “We as a nation are incredibly grateful to Capt. Khan’s service and ultimate sacrifice – as well as the sacrifices of his parents – to keep us safe and free. We must always honor our veterans, and their families; many have endured far more than we can ever imagine, and we must always remember to express our gratitude.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-New Hartford, issued a statement Monday saying Americans ought to honor anybody who fought to maintain freedom no matter what race, religion or background, adding he is friends with a Muslim family in Cedar Falls whose son served in the U.S. armed forces.
“Mr. Trump’s comments are not in line with my own beliefs about how the members of the military and their families should be treated, and respect for the people who serve our country is something both presidential campaigns could use more of,” said Grassley.
“Hearing the words from Gold Star families conjures memories of my own mother painting gold stars and the names of fallen New Hartford sons during WWII on boards to place in front of the New Hartford Post Office,” he added. “We had several in our little town. Only Gold Star families know the pain and sacrifice of losing a son or daughter in the fight for freedom.”
Grassley’s statement came after his 2016 general-election opponent, Albia Democrat Patty Judge, took him to task Monday for being slow to condemn what she called Trump’s “attack” on a Gold Star family.
“Chuck Grassley has stood by while Donald Trump has insulted women, minorities, Americans with disabilities, and now he is remaining silent as his endorsed presidential candidate levies vile attacks on Captain Humayun Khan’s family,” Judge said in a statement. “By remaining silent, Senator Grassley is choosing loyalty to his party in Washington and his continued support of Donald Trump over his loyalty to Iowa values like respect, decency, and defending the honor of America’s fallen and their families.”
At his weekly news conference, Branstad said he personally believes that “anyone that has died in the service of our country is a hero” and Trump’s respond to the parents who immigrated to the United States “was a mistake” to divert the focus away from his policy differences with Hillary Clinton.
“I’ve been through a few campaigns and I understand there are a lot of people who are going to try to set traps for you and all those kinds of things, but I think you have to be very disciplined and very careful,” Branstad said. “As a candidate, it’s important to bring things back to what’s important to the American people: jobs, fiscal responsibility and protecting safety of Americans.”
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The weekly travel schedule issued by Trump’s campaign shows a town hall scheduled for 3 p.m. in Des Moines on Friday, but so far no details have been announced. Trump made stops in Iowa last Thursday in Davenport and Cedar Rapids, while Clinton spent part of Monday in Omaha, Neb.