Donald Trump went where nobody could have expected even Donald Trump to go.
The real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate, who's leading the field in several recent polls, lit into Senator John McCain of Arizona on Saturday when speaking to a conservative conference, even going after his legendary military service—and drawing instant condemnation from fellow candidates.
"He's not a war hero," Trump said in a question-and-answer session with pollster Frank Luntz. Then he altered his comment: "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?"
The crowd responded with an awkward mix of shocked "oohs" and scattered applause. "Because he was captured, OK? Perhaps he's a war hero. But right now he's said some very bad things about a lot of people."
McCain spent more than five years in captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, a brutal period during which he was tortured and faced solitary confinement, after his plane was shot down. His feud with Trump escalated last week after Trump rallied conservatives in Phoenix against illegal immigration, which McCain, who is running for reelection to the Senate in 2016, told New Yorker "fired up the crazies."
Trump retorted: "I know what a crazy is. I know all about crazies. These weren't crazy."
And that wasn't all Trump had to say about McCain. He attacked him for having "graduated last in his class" at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis (McCain actually graduated fifth from last).
Asked why he didn't serve in the Vietnam War, Trump responded that he had a bone spur, although he couldn't remember in which foot. "It's a long time ago. I had student deferments and ultimately had a medical deferment because of my feet," he said.
Badgered by reporters at a news conference shortly after, Trump repeatedly refused to back down or apologize for his attack on McCain, and even launched new missives. "I think John McCain has done very little for the veterans. I'm very disappointed in John McCain."
"If someone's a prisoner I would consider that person a war hero. And we have a lot of war heroes that weren't prisoners also. And we should give them credit, too," he said.
Trump's fellow Republican candidates at the Ames, Iowa, forum, including Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Perry, quickly condemned the comments.
"John McCain is an American hero. I have nothing but respect for his service to our country," Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, said on Twitter. "After Donald Trump spends six years in a POW camp, he can weigh in on John McCain's service."
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who was not at the conference, also tweeted. "Enough with the slanderous attacks."