Assessing The Fallout From Trump's McCain Comments On Saturday, Donald Trump sneered at Sen. John McCain's war record in Vietnam and later criticized his record on veterans' issues. Correspondent Don Gonyea tells NPR's Arun Rath how Trump's remarks may affect his candidacy.

Assessing The Fallout From Trump's McCain Comments

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In politics, few things are sacred, but one thing that is - respect for the nation's veterans. That's a lesson learned the hard way this weekend by Donald Trump. The Republican presidential candidate questioned the status of Senator - and former prisoner of war - John McCain as a war hero, causing a huge backlash. NPR's Don Gonyea is on the campaign trail in Iowa, where Trump made his comments. He joins us now. Don, remind us what it was that Trump said.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: First, the scene - this was one of those big candidate forums, this one sponsored by a religious conservative organization in Iowa. The event was in Ames, Iowa. Trump was on-stage early in the day, being interviewed by Frank Luntz, who's a Republican pollster. And Trump was going on, really prosecuting what has been an ongoing war of words he's had with John McCain for the past several weeks. They've been going back and forth, hitting each other over immigration. Anyway, Luntz jumped in and said wait a minute. John McCain is a war hero. And this is how Trump responded.


FRANK LUNTZ: War hero...

DONALD TRUMP: He is a war hero.

LUNTZ: Five and half years...

TRUMP: He's a war hero 'cause he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.


LUNTZ: He was a war hero.

TRUMP: Do you agree with that? He's a war hero because he was captured.

GONYEA: You can hear the audience reacting there. They're surprised. The'yre shocked. Some are cheering. Some are kind of, you know, concerned. Eventually, Trump slammed McCain for not doing more to help the nation's veterans. We should note here, yes, there have been those scandals over the state of the VA, though McCain did actually sponsor a bill that passed overwhelmingly last year that did expand medical care for veterans, new healthcare facilities, new nurses, money for new doctors.

RATH: Now, there have been plenty of responses from the other candidates, all quick to say that McCain is a hero, but notable that not all of them were willing to slam Trump.

GONYEA: Right. You did have people like Scott Walker and Jeb Bush and Rick Perry all slamming Trump really hard. But some of the other candidates are getting support from people who also like Donald Trump. It's basically the Tea Party wing of the party. And one in such candidate is Texas Senator Ted Cruz. When pressed on it by reporters, Cruz said he wasn't going to give into that desire that he said we have for Republican-on-Republican violence. He said the media just loves that. He just wasn't going to go there. He left it at praising McCain.

RATH: A lot of commentators are talking about this as being something like a pivotal moment in the Trump campaign. What does this mean for him moving ahead?

GONYEA: He certainly has become a very prominent figure in the campaign. And we know he's very likely to be among those who make the first cut of 10 who will be allowed on a stage in that first debate in just a couple of weeks. But here's the other thing. Other candidates have been really slow to go after him in a really tough way and to look at his policies. It's kind of like they've treated him as an annoyance that's over there, that's going to eventually go away. Well, he hasn't gone away, but look for the gloves to come off in terms of how others start talking about him and probably the kind of scrutiny voters give him, as well.

RATH: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea joining us from Des Moines, Iowa. Don, thank you.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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