Donald Trump

By Philip Bump
July 18, 2015 – 1:25 PM

This post has been updated.

At Saturday’s Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Donald Trump may, at last, have crossed a line with Republican voters from which he can’t walk back.

Arizona Sen. John McCain earlier this week harshly criticized the businessman in a conversation with the New Yorker, lamenting Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. Having already responded on Twitter by calling McCain a “dummy,” Trump upped the ante in Iowa by disparaging McCain’s — and every POW’s — military service.

“He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said. “I like people that weren’t captured.”

The online response (for what it’s worth) was immediate and harsh. Many pointed to the fact that Trump had received deferments that let him avoid service in Vietnam. In an ensuing press conference, Trump blamed a bone spur, among other things. A subsequent written statement offered that Trump has “great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren’t captured and are also heroes.” (And ends with: “Note, Mr. Trump left to a long lasting standing ovation, which will be by far the biggest ovation of the weekend, and much congratulatory praise.”)

Unsurprisingly, his primary opponents criticized him as well, at varying degrees of severity.

As CBS’ John Dickerson pointed out on Twitter, Trump’s comment allows establishment Republicans who disagreed with Trump’s much more vituperative comments about Mexican immigrants to at last lay into him or write him off. Several of Trump’s primary opponents were loathe to respond to his immigration comments with much ferocity. But defending illegal immigrants requires a higher political investment than defending former prisoners of war. Ted Cruz, Trump’s most reliable defender on the immigration remarks, declined to condemn these comments, either.

To read expanded column, click here.