Opinion

Will Trump’s Smear of McCain Doom His Candidacy?

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, on July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Donald Trump outdid the Donald when he told a religious audience in Iowa on Saturday that John McCain was “not a war hero,” that the Arizona senator receives accolades only because he was a prisoner: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like soldiers who weren’t captured.”

It’s hard to unpack the craziness of this sentence and where it’s logic would take you. (Such as what the Republican presidential candidate might say about Lincoln: “I like presidents who weren’t shot.”) Not that it needs any elaboration, but McCain’s heroism comes from volunteering for danger when he could have avoided being on the front lines and then enduring years of torture at the hands of the Communist North Vietnamese government, during which he was beaten mercilessly.

Trump, 69, noted that he did not serve in Vietnam. “I had student deferments and ultimately had a medical deferment because of my feet. I had a bone spur.”

Trump went on to issue a statement that seemed to walk back his remarks, saying McCain hadn’t done enough to build up the military or sufficiently worked on behalf of veterans, which is equally batty. Trump’s statement: “I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren't captured and are also heroes.”

Sensing an opening, other GOP presidential candidates began to attack Trump with unalloyed glee. Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal were quick to tweet denouncements. Jeb Bush weighed in, too. Ted Cruz was effusive in his praise for McCain as a war hero but did not denounce Trump’s comments.

But there’s no certainty that Trump’s splenetic remarks will doom his campaign, which at least so far has shown a Teflon®-like resistance to condemnation.

The one argument that could really doom Trump among GOP voters has been hiding in plain sight: He’s threatened to raise taxes.

Trump has put tough-on-trade rhetoric at the center of his campaign, vowing that he’d slap huge tariffs on the order of 25 percent on imported goods from nations that don’t, in his estimation, open their markets to the U.S. That would mean a huge levy on Chinese TVs, Mexican electronics, clothes from South Asia—pretty much everything an American family would buy. And, of course, a tax on foreign goods would not only make American alternatives—assuming they exist—more expensive, but it would give American manufacturers room to raise their own prices.

Trump is talking raising taxes and the other candidates are ignoring it. That seems loopy in a party that’s bound by opposition to tax hikes. Polling shows some willingness on the part of GOP voters to raise taxes on wealthier voters and corporations, but that’s a long way from slapping higher taxes on cars and TVs, jeans and jackets.

While the tough-on-trade argument has a lot of resonance in the party, there are other avenues to taking on troubling imports, including quotas. That might have some of the same effect, of raising prices, but at least it’s not using the word tariff or tax.

Trump’s incendiary comments about illegal immigrants being rapists haven’t slowed his march. His ridicule of McCain may not either. Calling him a tax raiser just might. He will collapse at some point. A tax-raiser charge would hasten that day.