Trump Draws GOP Fire for McCain Remarks at Family Leadership Council Summit

Other candidates say Trump shouldn't question McCain's status as a hero.

ByJosh Haskell
July 18, 2015, 9:54 PM

AMES, Iowa — -- Ten Republican Presidential Candidates came to Ames Saturday for the Family Leadership Council summit, but presidential candidate Donald Trump made all the headlines early on in the eight-hour event, not because he’s doing well in the polls, but because of his remarks on former presidential candidate and POW John McCain.

"He's a war hero because he was captured," Trump said at the event, hosted by Iowa social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats. "I like people who weren’t captured."

It’s a comment that stayed in Stephens Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University long after Trump left. The nine other speakers were former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Ben Carson, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. The event was structured as a Q&A format with national pollster Frank Luntz and the audience asking the candidates questions.

During Perry’s session, a gay man from Ames asked him how a person can push an agenda on him and deny his rights to pursue happiness.

“My belief is that marriage is between a man and women,” said Perry who went on to discuss how he thinks this issue should be up to states to decide and focused on the importance of picking Supreme Court Justices.

“He didn’t answer my question,” said the man.

But the session continued and at one point, Perry brought up Trump’s remarks without being asked about them.

"As an individual who has worn the uniform of this country, I was highly offended about what Donald Trump said about John McCain and his years of sacrifices in a dirty, dingy, terrible prison in North Vietnam," Perry said.

Rubio didn’t have the chance to respond to Trump on stage because he spoke right before Trump, focusing on the threat of ISIS.

“Right now, it's not an issue because this president isn’t arresting any terrorists any more," Rubio said. "He’s not interrogating any terrorists any more. He wants to close Guantanamo.”

Graham carried that theme by looking directly at the crowd and saying: “We’re in a religious war right now. They would kill everyone in this room if they could.”

Although he’s trailing in the polls, Jindal saw the most standing ovations when he spoke late Saturday. Jindal talked about what he said were attacks on the American family and his Christian faith. He also told the audience to give Bernie Sanders credit for being an honest person and admitting that he’s a socialist.

"It’s not just the Democrats," he said. "I’m going to have problems working with some of these Republicans in Washington too."

Besides condemning Trump’s comments, the other nine candidates didn’t attack each other and spent the majority of their time attacking President Obama and at times, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Graham, whose parents died when he was young, got emotional when asked about what they would say seeing him run for president.

"I've been on my knees, and some people helped me to get up," he said. "I feel like I’m on Oprah,”

Luntz responded: "Who does that make me?"

Religion was the overall theme of the day with a Bible on the table next to Luntz. At one point, Rubio read Luke chapter 12, verse 48 from that Bible -- "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded" -- and the crowd loved it.

The final speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also touched on religion saying: “That’s something that was part of the founding of this country. That’s something that we should never lose sight of -- protecting religious liberties.”

But, it was no surprise when Walker decided to close his remarks touching on the story of the day, which came from the very stage and seat he occupied.

"I don’t believe in attacking other candidates, but John McCain is an American hero and I will defend him,” said Walker.

ABC’S Alec Goodwin contributed to this story.

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