Trump Trumps All Other Candidates

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Trump Trumps All Other Candidates on Monday, July 20, 2015.

Granted, Donald Trump now leads all other candidates in the competition to become the Republican nominee for president, according to a last week’s USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, but I am referring here to his trumping all other candidates in exercising the all-too-common politicians’ practice of not answering questions.

In a prior Forbes blog about Chris Christie and another on Marco Rubio, I wrote about how they ducked questions from reporters. But Mr. Trump outdid them all yesterday in his non-responses to a string of questions from ABC News Correspondent Martha Raddatz. The subject was the hottest news story of the weekend: During a political forum in Iowa on Saturday, Mr. Trump had demeaned Arizona Senator John McCain’s noted war record by saying, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

The statement ignited a firestorm of angry rebuke from veterans’ organizations, Republicans, and the media. True to her journalistic credentials, Ms. Raddatz focused on the controversy in her questions. To demonstrate her single-minded pursuit and the evasive pattern of Mr. Trump’s responses, I’ve left the transcript of the interview mostly intact. After an initial defense, he proceeded to slide into tangential subjects that took the interview away from the central issue of his inflammatory statement.

Ms. Raddatz cut to the chase with her first question, “Do you owe John McCain an apology?”

Mr. Trump immediately replied, “No, not at all,” and then went to justify his statement by citing one journalist who defended him. He then shunted to a discussion of his lead in the polls.

Ms. Raddatz interrupted, “Mr. Trump, I want to—let’s go back to this issue of John McCain.” She went on to read a short bio of John McCain that described his courageous behavior when he was captured during the Vietnam War. She concluded the bio by asking, “You do not think that is a war hero, captured or not?”

Again, Mr. Trump disagreed. “I didn’t say anything differently. And if you read—and if you watch and take a look at what you have, I said nothing differently.” Then he abruptly shunted to attack mode: “I’m very disappointed in John McCain because the vets are horribly treated in this country.”

Ms. Raddatz then read statements from the leaders of two veterans’ organizations sharply condemning Mr. Trump’s statement, and concluded, “They apparently think you were criticizing Mr. McCain and saying he was not a war hero.”

Mr. Trump stayed on offense, “Well, maybe they don’t speak to the same vets that I speak to. But I go all over the country and I speak to vets all the time.”

Undeterred, Ms. Raddatz stayed on track. “Let’s go back here—let’s go back to your comment about John McCain…”

Mr. Trump would not go back despite Ms. Raddatz’s efforts, diverting the interview even further away from the central theme until it ended in a stalemate.

As this morning’s New York Times story sums up the matter, “the word ‘sorry’ is not in Mr. Trump’s lexicon, and apologizing was not an option.”

This is not to say that Donald Trump should have apologized. As a communicator, I am a firm believer in the tenet often attributed to Voltaire, the 18th Century French philosopher: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

However, the defense must be about the central issue, not a tangent.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Trump Trumps All Other Candidates on Monday, July 20, 2015.