Gaffe Track: Trump Fires Back at Khizr Khan, Citing His 'Sacrifices'

Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Donald Trump

The gaffe: On Thursday, Khizr Khan, the father of slain U.S. Army solider Humayun Khan, delivered the most memorable moment of either party convention. Speaking at the DNC, Khan said, “Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son ‘the best of America.’ If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America.” Khan continued asked whether Trump had ever read the Constitution and said, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” Asked about that by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump first questioned why Khizr Khan’s wife Ghazala did not speak. “If you look at his wife, she was standing there,” he said. “She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. Then Trump said he’d sacrificed: “I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've done, I've had tremendous success.” A somewhat incredulous Stephanopoulos asked if those were really sacrifices. “Oh, sure. I think they're sacrifices,” Trump said.

The defense: The Trump campaign sent out the full transcript of his remarks Sunday, suggesting they were exculpatory. Not so much.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): At this early stage, this looks like one of the rare gaffes that might stick. Khizr Khan’s speech was devastating, with a grieving immigrant father whose son died for the United States calling Trump out for proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country. Trump’s response was to make a snarky remark (for the record, Ghazala Khan, who has spoken in interviews, said she was too emotional to speak) and then to claim, incredibly, that having a successful business career was somewhat an equivalent sacrifice to having a son die in combat. (Trump, a non-veteran, once likened his quest to avoid STDs to the Vietnam War.) The comment speaks for itself, but not in a good way. Just wait: Trump might still make it worse. Sunday morning, he defended his right to counterpunch at Khan Sunday morning:

The lesson: Sacrificing oneself on the altar of propriety and respectability does not qualify as self-abnegation.