Politico Magazine: Trump’s Attacks On Khan Family May Be His “McCarthy Moment,” From Which He May Not Recover
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Politico Magazine contributing editor Zachary Karabell likened Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan to the culmination of Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt in 1954, drawing parallels between Trump “attacking the unimpeachable, suffering parents of a dead hero” and McCarthy “raising suspicions about the loyalties of senior officials in the U.S. Army.”
Karabell wrote of Trump’s attacks, “we may just have witnessed his McCarthy moment,” referring to how McCarthy’s political career “never recovered” after one of his targets, Joseph Welch, “called out” “the bully” on national television.
After Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2004, excoriated Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals at the Democratic National Convention, Trump responded by attacking the Khan family. Trump’s attacks earned bipartisan scorn.
Karabell wrote that just as in 1954, when “the bully [Joseph McCarthy] had been called out in public” by Welch and “never recovered,” Trump’s attacks on the Khan family may be “his McCarthy moment.” He argued that Trump may have “crossed over some invisible line of decency that even many voters who now support him can’t stomach,” because he “touched a kind of ethical third rail by attacking the unimpeachable, suffering parents of a dead hero.” Karabell finished, “Donald Trump has churned up a great deal of darkness” with his attacks on the Khan family, “and his moment may just have passed,” just like McCarthy in 1954. From the August 1 Politico Magazine article:
Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Those cutting words, delivered on national television, effectively ended the career of Senator Joe McCarthy. For four years, McCarthy had enjoyed a kind of immunity as he smeared anyone he pleased while on a national witch hunt for Communist sympathizers. But in the spring of 1954, during hearings on supposed infiltrators in the U.S. Army that were broadcast on the new medium of television, McCarthy casually sought to destroy a young lawyer at the firm of Joseph Welch, counsel to the Army, an esteemed Harvard-trained lawyer and fellow Republican. When McCarthy suggested the junior attorney had Communist sympathies, the courtly Welch sank his head in despair, then looked McCarthy in the eye and excoriated him with those immortal words. Tens of millions of new American TV viewers watched in fascination and horror. The senator from Wisconsin never recovered.
Such turning points are not always evident when they happen: When does a nation reach a moment in which even a popular demagogue who has enjoyed a seeming immunity from public condemnation—no matter what he says—goes too far? History doesn’t repeat itself, and Donald Trump has defied many predictions of his downfall in the past. But it’s possible we may just have witnessed his McCarthy moment, considering the criticism that has been heaped on the GOP candidate from all sides in the past few days since Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Pakistani-born American parents of an Army captain killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2004, appeared at the podium of the Democratic National Convention to honor their son and make the case against Trump for president.
The coming days will determine whether Donald Trump has, like Joe McCarthy, crossed over some invisible line of decency that even many voters who now support him can’t stomach. In many ways the controversy is similar to past moments when Trump has attacked innocent people—like the judge in his Trump University case, Gonzalo P. Curiel, whom Trump impugned for his “Mexican heritage”—and was condemned for it, but still managed to keep his standing in the polls. This time could be different—even from when Trump insulted Sen. John McCain's war service, declaring that McCain was no hero because he was only captured, although the Arizona senator withstood torture for four years. Many predicted Trump’s downfall then too, and it didn’t happen.
But now Trump has touched a kind of ethical third rail by attacking the unimpeachable, suffering parents of a dead hero—Capt. Khan was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions—and by cheapening the very idea of sacrifice for one’s country. And with just 98 days left until the election, the GOP candidate's campaign is consumed in another unnecessary controversy—perhaps the biggest one yet—and Trump is being condemned by leading figures in both parties.