In the course of the campaign, Donald Trump has taken his whacks at Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and, yes, Bill Clinton.
But this time feels different.
The Republican nominee is, of course, entitled to defend himself against Khizr Khan, who took the stage at the Democratic convention and denounced him as an anti-Muslim bigot. But the way in which he has done it has fueled the story.
There is no question that Khan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, provided a heartbreaking moment in Philadelphia. Trump had nothing to do with his son’s wartime death, of course, but Khan took his proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigrants and used it to question whether the candidate has even read the Constitution (which Trump says he has).
The media have given this man and his wife an enormous platform—in a way they conspicuously declined to do when Patricia Smith blamed Hillary Clinton at the Republican convention for the death of her son in Benghazi.
Khan’s speech got a writeup on the front page of the New York Times. On Sunday he was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” calling Trump, among other things, a “black soul.” Yesterday it was the “Today” show, “Morning Joe” and “New Day.”
Trump, in a sitdown with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, questioned, among other things, why Khan’s wife did not speak at the convention. (She responded in a Washington Post op-ed that she gets emotionally overcome even looking at pictures of her late son.)
The problem for Trump is that he’s in a fight with a Gold Star mother and her husband, who naturally have enormous public sympathy. (Trump later issued a statement calling Khan’s son a “hero” but saying Khan had “no right” to attack him, but the damage was done.)
The New York Times is calling it “one of the biggest crises of his campaign,” saying it’s “too soon to say how severe the damage to Mr. Trump might be, but the clash has already entangled him in a self-destructive, dayslong argument with sympathetic accusers who are portraying him as a person of unredeemable callousness.”
The paper did add that “he has proved remarkably resilient, getting past controversies that might have sunk other candidates.”
The Washington Post says Trump “drew new criticism from his party” for taking on Khan. “But the Republican presidential nominee refused to back down from his attacks, and a former aide argued that the soldier would still be alive if Trump were president at the time of his service.”
Politico says Trump had a horrible weekend, with disputed comments about Russia and the timing of the fall debates, that “seemed to demonstrate all of the flaws — trouble with the truth, an inability to let criticism go unanswered and a lack of knowledge of world affairs — that Republicans fear Trump will be unable to put behind him and that Democrats hope will be the billionaire’s undoing come November.”
The media narrative is clear. And some of Trump’s allies aren’t helping. Roger Stone, the informal Trump adviser, tweeted that Khan is “more than an aggrieved father of a Muslim son- he's Muslim Brotherhood agent helping Hillary.”
New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, who has called for Clinton to be killed, said this: “Follow the money trail on Mr Khan. Shame on him for using his Warrior son, who made the Ultimate sacrifice as a pawn.”
Every day that Trump is talking about Khizr Khan is a day he’s not talking about jobs or taxes. It means that Clinton insisting again, with Chris Wallace, that she did not send or receive classified information, against all available evidence, was totally overshadowed in the media.
Patricia Smith drew little coverage for her speech attacking Clinton in Cleveland. That may be in part because she had repeatedly made the same allegations in television interviews. But Smith also drew criticism for bringing up Benghazi.
GQ writer Bethlehem Shoals tweeted: “I don’t care how many children Pat Smith lost, I would like to beat her to death.” He later apologized.
In her “Fox News Sunday” interview, Clinton was asked about Smith’s allegations that she misled her and another Benghazi family after the 2012 attack. She took a soft approach.
“Chris, my heart goes out to both of them. Losing a child under any circumstances, especially in this case, two State Department employees, extraordinary men both of them, two CIA contractors gave their lives protecting our country, our values…
“I don’t hold any ill feeling for someone who in that moment may not fully recall everything that was or wasn’t said.”
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that most of the mainstream media sympathize with Khan’s harsh portrait of Trump, but believe that Smith’s harsh rendition of Clinton is unfair.
I leave you with this: MSNBC blogger Steve Benen, during the Democratic convention: "Khizr Khan's Words Won't Soon Be Forgotten." He said no speaker topped Khan for "sheer emotional weight and resonance."
Ten days earlier, during the Republican convention, Benen's headline was this: "RNC Manipulates the Pain of a Grieving Mother for Partisan Gain." He called it "probably the lowest point a party has reached in my lifetime."
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.