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Politics

Disavowed Trump Picks Up Zealots

CONCORD, New Hampshire — The Republican establishment may hope this is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump’s circus-like run for the Presidency.

But as the fallout intensifies after the billionaire businessman mocked Arizona Senator John McCain’s war hero status and lashed out against Mexican immigrants, Trump’s supporters are more excited than ever about his chances.

Having entered the Presidential race as a long-shot candidate, Trump has been doing surprisingly well in early national polls.

“I love to see them jump all over him ’cause they’re just giving him a clear road. I love it!” said Trump supporter Frank Candelieri, 89, of the backlash his candidate faced in recent days.

On July 18, the reality television star and real estate mogul dismissed McCain’s reputation as a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam, saying he liked “people who weren’t captured.”

McCain, the 2008 Republican Presidential nominee, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietman, enduring torture and refusing release ahead of fellow captives.

The remark sparked an avalanche of criticism that followed Trump throughout the weekend and into July 20 as veterans groups and many Republican officials defended McCain.

“Anybody who suggests that John and his fellow POWs are somehow lacking and can’t be called ‘American hero,’ you shouldn’t be our Commander-in-Chief,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican Presidential contender himself, said in New York.

The response from different Republican corners highlights discord within the ranks as the party grapples with a massive primary field that is expected grow to 16 this week.

Republican leaders and other 2016 candidates have been frustrated by Trump’s brash campaign, which has often overshadowed their own in recent weeks.

But many Trump backers in early-voting states argue the exchange is being overblown by the media and his opponents, who fear his sudden rise in early polls.

Even many non-Trump supporters doubted the latest controversy would hurt his appeal among a slice of the electorate that is deeply frustrated with the Washington establishment and finds his unvarnished persona refreshing.

“I think it’s going to improve his viability to be honest with you,” argued Lou Gargiulo, one of Trump’s county chairmen in New Hampshire, which holds the first Presidential primary next year. “The more Mr. Trump is being beaten on by people, obviously the better his polling numbers are.”

While McCain may seem to some like an unusual target, the Arizona senator is deeply unpopular among many conservatives. Trump supporters say McCain started the spat by calling several thousand Trump supporters who attended a recent campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, “crazies.”

Trump late July 20 softened his tone, albeit slightly, in an interview with Fox News: “Certainly if there was a misunderstanding, I would totally take that back,” he said before calling on McCain to apologize to the Arizona voters he insulted.

Much of Trump’s appeal is based on his brand as a political outsider and say-anything style, and backers acknowledge that what drives his appeal is sometimes going to get him into trouble.

The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, published an editorial July 20 calling on Trump to drop out of the race.

“Trump has proven himself not only unfit to hold office, but unfit to stand on the same stage as his Republican opponents,” the Register said.

(KATHLEEN RONAYNE and JILL COLVIN)

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