WASHINGTON — Veterans rallied outside Sen. John McCain’s Capitol Hill office Thursday demanding that the Arizona Republican rescind his endorsement of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in light of Trump’s comments about veterans and Muslims.
“I am a Muslim American veteran and I am also an Arizona constituent of Sen. John McCain,” said Nate Terani, a Navy veteran who spoke at the event. “Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist and he is unfit for that position (of president).”
Terani and the other veterans delivered petitions from the Common Defense PAC and MoveOn.org that they said had 100,000 signatures asking McCain and other Republican leaders to unendorse Trump.
If McCain were to do so, he would be repaying Trump in kind: The petitions were delivered just days after Trump told the Washington Post that he would not endorse McCain in Arizona’s primary later this month.
But Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virgina’s Center for Politics, said Trump’s rejection could be a blessing in disguise for McCain.
“He’s perhaps in a better position now to walk the line between out-and-out supporting Trump and rejecting him,” Skelley said. “He doesn’t have to cozy himself up to Trump, and Trump is probably not going to be campaigning with him.”
Skelley said McCain is still the favorite in the race, even though Arizona is a “competitive” state where a five-term incumbent like McCain could face some resistance. He said Trump’s comments would help shield McCain from charges by his likely Democratic challeger, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, that McCain is aligned with Trump.
“McCain could potentially use this to his benefit,” Skelley said. “Kirkpatrick is going to try to connect McCain to Trump, that’s fairly obvious.”
But Terani said it’s not enough that McCain has not been endorsed by Trump – the senator has to say he will not endorse Trump.
Terani pointed to Trump’s criticism of the Democratic National Convention speech by Khizr Khan, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004. Terani said the time has come for McCain to stop backing Trump.
“I think it goes part and parcel with the bigot we’ve seen, the Islamophobe we’ve seen, in Donald Trump,” Terani said Thursday. “He (McCain) should unendorse Donald Trump and say why he’s unendorsing him.”
McCain’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the petitions Thursday.
While he has never endorsed Trump by name, McCain has said repeatedly since September that he will support the Republican nominee – a statement he did not take back when Trump accepted the nomination at the party’s convention last month.
The veterans appealed to McCain both as a veteran and as a senator to take back his endorsement and defend those they feel Trump has insulted.
“I’m done listening. I’ve heard enough,” former Army Sgt. Alexander McCoy said. “Sen. McCain, you have heard enough, too. You served and you sacrificed in ways Donald Trump cannot understand.”
Army veteran Sgt. Crystal Cravens also spoke, calling on McCain not to be afraid of Trump’s wrath and to unendorse Trump despite the criticism that may come from the nominee and his supporters.
“Sen. McCain, please remind Donald Trump that we are people, not pawns,” Cravens said.