Will Trump’s Attack on the Khans Be the Beginning of the End for His White House Hopes?

AP

Donald Trump has made countless gaffes throughout the course of his quest for the presidency – from saying former prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain was not a war hero because he "got captured," to questioning a judge's impartiality because he was of Mexican descent.

But this week after Trump attacked the family of a solider who died in Iraq, calling them "vicious" and saying he had sacrificed as much as they had, Republicans are growing evermore pessimistic about Trump's chances against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton this fall. 

"This whole episode just validates the concern that people have had about him all along," said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist. "It is a graphic example of his inability to be sympathetic or empathetic, to be compassionate, to be decent, to be disciplined. And it's like, if he'll do this to this family, in what other circumstances would he do something similar?"

Embroiled in Khan-troversy: Trump's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend began Friday, the day after Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala, made one of the most memorable appearances at the Democratic National Convention.

The Khans — a Muslim American family whose son, Humayun, was killed in action while serving in Iraq — denounced Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. Khizr Khan said Trump had likely never read the Constitution, because his proposals would send the country into a constitutional crisis. And he added that defeating Trump was a moral imperative for America. 

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The next day, Trump came out to say the Khans had "no right" to question whether he had read the Constitution, and wondered aloud whether Ghazala — who stood silently by her husband's side as he spoke at the DNC — was forbidden from speaking because of her Muslim faith. 

Incised by his accusations, the Khans made the rounds on the television circuit, saying Trump had a "black soul" and adding that Ghazala did not speak because she was too grief-stricken after seeing a photo of her deceased son. 

The whole incident has drawn some top Republicans to denounce Trump's statements, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. 

Other groups, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, issued stern rebukes of Trump's comments.

And Sally Bradshaw, a top Florida Republican who has been a long time confidant of the Bush family and advised Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign, left the party after Trump's latest remarks. 

"I can't look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump," Bradshaw told CNN, adding that she has now left the Republican Party and is prepared to vote for Clinton in November if "Florida is close."

The high-profile list of groups denouncing Trump could help give already reluctant Republicans and GOP-leaning independents the push they needed to validate their choice not to vote for Trump in the fall. 

Playing into Clinton's hands: Republicans, even those who despise Trump, are reluctant to say this latest dust-up truly is the end of Trump's chances at victory in November. 

But a litany of compounding factors — including the gaffe's timing, the number of high-profile figures who have come out against Trump and what Trump's attack on the family of a soldier killed in the line of duty reveals about the GOP nominee's temperament — leave Republicans in agreement: this whole mess played right into Clinton's hands.

Trump picked the fight with the Khans right after the DNC wrapped, which could cause his already falling poll numbers to fall further than they already have after a week of sustained Democratic attacks on his temperament and readiness to lead.

His quickness to attack any detractors, even a Gold Star family whose son made the ultimate sacrifice to the country, embodied a line Clinton delivered in her nomination acceptance speech on Thursday: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

"Hillary's comment, 'If you cant control your Twitter, how can you control nuclear weapons,' — this gives that credibility," said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA., who said Trump took the bait Clinton set for him during a week of speeches aimed to rile Trump up. "We see this time and time again."

Adding to Trump's woes is that he already has a narrow path to winning the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. To do that, Trump would have to win virtually every swing state on the map — including states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia where he lags Clinton in the polls.

Making unforced errors such as the attack on the Khans will make that challenge quest even tougher.

Still, with 99 days to go before Election Day, even non-Trump fans say he's still in the hunt, and likely will be until Nov. 8.

"I think that the Democrats will try to revive it and get it to linger as long as possible," Charlie Gerow, a long-time Republican strategist from Pennsylvania, said of Trump's attacks on the Khans. "But there are just too many moving pieces for something like that to stick for a long period of time. None of the other comments have stuck for that long."