What Trump Should Have Said about Khizr Khan’s Speech

Donald Trump’s imbroglio with the parents of slain Army officer Humayun Khan is another example of his instincts gone awry. On the one hand he was correct to see the speech of Khan pere as a blatant Democrat ploy to attack Trump’s on Muslim immigration. However, Trump’s tendency to personalize everything and attack the Khans themselves was a mistake. Trump should have harnessed his instincts in order to make an effective attack on Hillary and the DNC rather than involving himself in a losing battle with the bereaved parents of a dead soldier.

Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democrat convention, while perhaps moving, was also shameless, in that he lent the sacrifice and heroism of his son to a highly partisan political party in the midst of a hotly contested election. The typical instinct of an ordinary Republican politician to such a brazen Democrat tactic would be to shrink away, in this case by either by ignoring the speech in hopes people forget, or legitimizing it hopes of appearing kinder and gentler. To Trump’s credit he did not do that, and his unconventional reaction to Democrat drama, whether in the form of convention speeches or hacked emails, is at least refreshing, and to his die hard supporters the essence of what they see in the man.

But having correctly recognized the Democrat tactic for what it was, Trump ought to have taken a deep breath, talked to his campaign manager and advisors, and then launched a calculated counterattack that focused on Hillary and the DNC. Instead as is his wont he personalized the matter as a conflict between himself and the Khans, a fight he can’t win. Whether this was part of the Democrat plan all along to bait Trump into such an overblown and personalized reaction is hard to say, but if by accident or design it worked well. Instead of keeping Hillary’s character and foibles front and center of his campaign, headlines across the country, in social media and on television are all about Trump’s losing battle with Khizr Khan over who has been hurt more -- Khan for the loss of his son, or Trump for his hurt feelings after Khan attacked him at the convention.

In a campaign rife with silliness from all participants, perhaps nothing has been more so than Trump’s attempt to compare the sacrifices of Khizr Khan and his son to his own. Neither Trump nor his handsome well-coifed sons ever served a lick of military service, nor does it appear they ever had to endure any kind of significant physical or emotional sacrifice, at least as ordinary people -- who are supposedly Trump’s base -- understand it. Trump’s disparagement of John McCain’s heroism for “getting captured” was just stupid, something a twelve-year-old might say. His claim of sacrifice in comparison to Captain Khan’s is an insult to anyone who ever served a day in uniform, and much more so to those who have undergone long difficult deployments, served in combat or both. And many such people are his voters.

Getting into a shouting match with Khan about relative sacrifices and Trump’s own hurt feelings for being attacked at the convention was simply not smart. Not only does it reinforce Democrat talking points about Trump’s narcissism and peevish nature, and take attention off of Hillary’s similar weaknesses, but it gives Hillary yet another example for explaining why Americans should not want Trump with our nuclear codes. He’s still making campaign commercials for the Democrats.

What a missed opportunity! Trump could have used Khan’s speech to highlight the hypocrisy and cant of the Democrats at the same time that they were claiming to be the positive, patriotic party. He need not have attacked Khan personally, but expressed sorrow for the fact that Hillary and the Democrats used the bereaved parents of a fallen soldier so cynically. That could have been differentiated from Patricia Smith’s speech at the Republican convention about her SEAL son killed in Benghazi by explaining that Hillary was directly responsible for that serviceman’s death, and so a legitimate political issue, as opposed to turning Captain Khan’s sacrifice for his country into a political football. Trump and his defenders have belatedly tried to do something like this but it’s lost in the media and political fireworks over his personal fight with the Khans. And to expect Hillary to be treated similarly in the media over her critical comments about Smith’s speech is naïve. 

Mostly, Trump might have pointed out that in putting up the Khans as exemplars of American Muslims, the Democrats were doing exactly what they falsely accuse the Republicans of doing, asking voters to make general conclusions about people from specific instances. The political purpose of Khan’s speech was to attack Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration (since toned down to a call for banning immigration from certain countries with connections to Islamic terror.) But what has the sacrifice of the Khans got to do with that? Nobody, including Trump, ever argued that all Muslims are terrorists or that they universally support creation of an Islamic state.  

Presumably, we are to believe that because Captain Khan was an American patriot that all Muslims are like him, which is just as absurd as believing that because the Orlando or San Bernardino terrorists were Muslim, all Muslims are terrorists. It is a political, logical and moral absurdity. Yet by turning Captain Khan’s sacrifice into a paradigm that suggests all other Muslims are like him, the Democrats open the door to voters drawing exactly the opposite conclusion every time there is an act of Islamist terror.  

Trump could have hammered home that message without once going after the parents of the dead soldier. He might have explained that American Muslims, like Americans from any ethnic or racial grouping can and should not be labeled one way or the other based on the actions of individuals. But at the same time, just as some Muslims are like Captain Khan and loyal patriotic Americans, some others are like the terrorists that strike here and around the world, and either might so act themselves, or quietly support those actions. And while an American president should honor and respect Muslim soldiers along with Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist soldiers, a president must also act reasonably to protect the country from those who would harm it, and right now that includes a not insignificant minority of Muslims, both here and abroad. 

Donald Trump’s imbroglio with the parents of slain Army officer Humayun Khan is another example of his instincts gone awry. On the one hand he was correct to see the speech of Khan pere as a blatant Democrat ploy to attack Trump’s on Muslim immigration. However, Trump’s tendency to personalize everything and attack the Khans themselves was a mistake. Trump should have harnessed his instincts in order to make an effective attack on Hillary and the DNC rather than involving himself in a losing battle with the bereaved parents of a dead soldier.

Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democrat convention, while perhaps moving, was also shameless, in that he lent the sacrifice and heroism of his son to a highly partisan political party in the midst of a hotly contested election. The typical instinct of an ordinary Republican politician to such a brazen Democrat tactic would be to shrink away, in this case by either by ignoring the speech in hopes people forget, or legitimizing it hopes of appearing kinder and gentler. To Trump’s credit he did not do that, and his unconventional reaction to Democrat drama, whether in the form of convention speeches or hacked emails, is at least refreshing, and to his die hard supporters the essence of what they see in the man.

But having correctly recognized the Democrat tactic for what it was, Trump ought to have taken a deep breath, talked to his campaign manager and advisors, and then launched a calculated counterattack that focused on Hillary and the DNC. Instead as is his wont he personalized the matter as a conflict between himself and the Khans, a fight he can’t win. Whether this was part of the Democrat plan all along to bait Trump into such an overblown and personalized reaction is hard to say, but if by accident or design it worked well. Instead of keeping Hillary’s character and foibles front and center of his campaign, headlines across the country, in social media and on television are all about Trump’s losing battle with Khizr Khan over who has been hurt more -- Khan for the loss of his son, or Trump for his hurt feelings after Khan attacked him at the convention.

In a campaign rife with silliness from all participants, perhaps nothing has been more so than Trump’s attempt to compare the sacrifices of Khizr Khan and his son to his own. Neither Trump nor his handsome well-coifed sons ever served a lick of military service, nor does it appear they ever had to endure any kind of significant physical or emotional sacrifice, at least as ordinary people -- who are supposedly Trump’s base -- understand it. Trump’s disparagement of John McCain’s heroism for “getting captured” was just stupid, something a twelve-year-old might say. His claim of sacrifice in comparison to Captain Khan’s is an insult to anyone who ever served a day in uniform, and much more so to those who have undergone long difficult deployments, served in combat or both. And many such people are his voters.

Getting into a shouting match with Khan about relative sacrifices and Trump’s own hurt feelings for being attacked at the convention was simply not smart. Not only does it reinforce Democrat talking points about Trump’s narcissism and peevish nature, and take attention off of Hillary’s similar weaknesses, but it gives Hillary yet another example for explaining why Americans should not want Trump with our nuclear codes. He’s still making campaign commercials for the Democrats.

What a missed opportunity! Trump could have used Khan’s speech to highlight the hypocrisy and cant of the Democrats at the same time that they were claiming to be the positive, patriotic party. He need not have attacked Khan personally, but expressed sorrow for the fact that Hillary and the Democrats used the bereaved parents of a fallen soldier so cynically. That could have been differentiated from Patricia Smith’s speech at the Republican convention about her SEAL son killed in Benghazi by explaining that Hillary was directly responsible for that serviceman’s death, and so a legitimate political issue, as opposed to turning Captain Khan’s sacrifice for his country into a political football. Trump and his defenders have belatedly tried to do something like this but it’s lost in the media and political fireworks over his personal fight with the Khans. And to expect Hillary to be treated similarly in the media over her critical comments about Smith’s speech is naïve. 

Mostly, Trump might have pointed out that in putting up the Khans as exemplars of American Muslims, the Democrats were doing exactly what they falsely accuse the Republicans of doing, asking voters to make general conclusions about people from specific instances. The political purpose of Khan’s speech was to attack Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration (since toned down to a call for banning immigration from certain countries with connections to Islamic terror.) But what has the sacrifice of the Khans got to do with that? Nobody, including Trump, ever argued that all Muslims are terrorists or that they universally support creation of an Islamic state.  

Presumably, we are to believe that because Captain Khan was an American patriot that all Muslims are like him, which is just as absurd as believing that because the Orlando or San Bernardino terrorists were Muslim, all Muslims are terrorists. It is a political, logical and moral absurdity. Yet by turning Captain Khan’s sacrifice into a paradigm that suggests all other Muslims are like him, the Democrats open the door to voters drawing exactly the opposite conclusion every time there is an act of Islamist terror.  

Trump could have hammered home that message without once going after the parents of the dead soldier. He might have explained that American Muslims, like Americans from any ethnic or racial grouping can and should not be labeled one way or the other based on the actions of individuals. But at the same time, just as some Muslims are like Captain Khan and loyal patriotic Americans, some others are like the terrorists that strike here and around the world, and either might so act themselves, or quietly support those actions. And while an American president should honor and respect Muslim soldiers along with Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist soldiers, a president must also act reasonably to protect the country from those who would harm it, and right now that includes a not insignificant minority of Muslims, both here and abroad.