A hero's honors.

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How Low Will Republican Leaders Let Trump Go?

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Silence is not enough.

Republicans who refused to attend the convention last month got a lot of praise for not falling in line behind a dangerous demagogue. But after Donald Trump's attacks on the Muslim-American parents of a fallen soldier, merely passing on attending this coronation is insufficient. As are the statements criticizing the nominee flowing out of Washington. How can you condemn Trump for his inhuman reaction to the parents of an American hero but still endorse him to be president?

There have been many example of Trump’s unfitness for office, but his attacks on the parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, are a bridge beyond any other. He damned the soldier's father for speaking out at the Democratic National Convention and his bereaved wife for not speaking. Trump, who can’t remember how he escaped the Vietnam draft, kept up the drumbeat through the weekend, and went so far as to say that being a real estate developer required sacrifices comparable to those made by Captain Khan. 

On Monday morning, even though he’d had time to sleep on it, Trump tweeted, “Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same -- Nice!” This wasn’t much different from his knee-jerk response earlier: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”

In a word, no, you are not allowed to respond, not if you are a sentient human being. Trump doesn’t know the difference between going after the grieving parents of a war hero and mocking "Lyin’ Ted Cruz." It was Trump's calls for Muslims to be banned from entering the U.S. that drove the Khans to the podium at the Democratic convention. Far from being unworthy to be here, they love their adopted country so much they gave their middle son, who, as his father Khizr Khan said, "never would have been in America" if Trump had his way.

The attacks and excuses continued throughout the day. The Trump campaign's national co-chairman Sam Clovis appeared on television to defend the candidate for “fighting back, this is normal. A lot of this is a dustup we see inside the Beltway and New York media circles.” The "dustup" now involves two dozen Gold Star families.

The continuing support for Trump from congressional leaders is mystifying in light of their objections to him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn't expansive, but he did reject Trump's words, though he is still too timid to do so by name. “I agree with the Khans and families across the country that a travel ban on all members of a religion is simply contrary to American values.” 

Speaker Paul Ryan was slightly more forceful: “Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice -- and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan -- should always be honored. Period.” 

We now know that there is no amount of defamation of other Americans that will move Republican leaders to call out Trump. Word has gone out that the standard-bearer should be criticized only when absolutely necessary to sleep at night, but by no means should the almost universal endorsement by the party’s leaders be withdrawn. What happened with the Khans makes you wonder what Trump would have to do to lose it? Maybe bragging about how well he knew and admired Vladimir Putin would do it, though he said Sunday that he didn’t know him at all. Or that he claimed to know nothing about his campaign's efforts to change the party’s platform on Ukraine to benefit Putin, his former good friend.

Ryan conceded that Trump's comments were racist when the candidate suggested that federal judge Gonzalo Curiel's Mexican heritage made him too biased to fairly adjudicate the class action case against Trump University. Ryan then reiterated his support for a racist.

You look for the spine in the party and see it in Senators Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, as well as Governor John Kasich -- but not in others. Not even in Senator John McCain, in a difficult re-election race in Arizona. It’s one thing to let pass Trump’s defamation of him for having the bad luck to be held in confinement and tortured for five years, but what about the other prisoners of war who don’t have a platform. On Monday, McCain issued a strong statement condemning Trump and advising him that the party’s nomination is “not a license to defame the best among us.” But he still didn't withdraw his support of the man he condemns. How can that be?

Trump has revealed a hollow soul many times, and this is just one more excruciating example. When Muslim-American parents rose to defend their son, he took it as an attack on him. Trump is the Republican leader who should have been silent. But he won’t retreat in shame, even when he’s stepped outside the bounds of decency. He can’t stop himself, nor can his running mate Mike Pence, who tried to silence him Sunday night. “Donald Trump and I believe that Captain Humayun Khan is an American hero and his family, like all Gold Star families, should be cherished by every American.”

Pence misspoke. He’s arm candy, not someone who can influence or improve him. The Khan attack is the latest proof that the excuse for supporting Trump-- that he will change and surround himself with stable, experienced people who will curb his instability -- isn't valid.

It is never going to happen. Silence in the face of Trump’s indecent behavior is itself indecent. Someday we will look back and ask how Trump got this far. Someday is now. 

(Corrects Humayun Khan's birth order in fourth paragraph and spelling of surname in eighth paragraph.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net