Donald Trump Defends Comments on Sen. John McCain’s War Hero Status, Veterans: ‘I will fight for them’

Jul 20, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to generate controversy in the American political landscape, this time directing his harsh remarks over Arizona Sen. John McCain and his status as a war hero. Despite the public backlash, the businessman has refused to apologize and wrote an op-ed defending his position, highlighting the plight of U.S. military veterans.

In an interview conducted by Martha Raddatz of ABC's 'This Week', Trump defended the comments he made about McCain's status as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, noting that he likes "people that weren't captured." His remarks about McCain have triggered a backlash against him, especially from many within the Republican Party.

"Very importantly, I got a standing ovation, the biggest ovation they had all weekend, by far," Trump said of the reaction to his remarks about McCain. "When I left the room, it was a total standing ovation. It was wonderful to see. Nobody was insulted."

Raddatz pointed out that McCain was shot down in 1967 during a bombing mission in North Vietnam and was later captured, tortured and interrogated by the North Vietnamese. She asked Trump if he did not consider the Arizona senator a true war hero.

"If you watch and take a look at what you have, I said nothing differently," Trump said. "I'm very disappointed in John McCain because the vets are horribly treated in this country. I'm [fighting] for the vets. I've done a lot for the vets."

Trump elaborated on how he would fix the problems that veterans from the United States military faced in an op-ed published in USA Today. He declared that "our heroes deserve the very best for defending our freedom."

"Our Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are outdated dumps. I will build the finest and most modern veterans hospitals in the world," Trump wrote. "The current medical assistance to our veterans is a disaster. A Trump administration will provide the finest universal access health care for our veterans. They will be able to get the best care anytime and anywhere."

Trump accused McCain, who is himself a veteran, for abandoning those who served in the U.S. armed forces. He made a few political points to back up his assertions.

"The reality is that John McCain the politician has made America less safe, sent our brave soldiers into wrong-headed foreign adventures, covered up for President Obama with the VA scandal and has spent most of his time in the Senate pushing amnesty," Trump wrote. "He would rather protect the Iraqi border than Arizona's. He even voted for the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015."

Trump made a bold assertion against McCain.

"McCain has abandoned our veterans. I will fight for them," Trump wrote.

Raddatz then grilled Trump on his deferment on military service; during the time of the Vietnam War, the U.S. government ran a draft to fill the ranks. Trump indicated that he received "a very high draft number."

"I had student deferments, like many other people had, during the war or around the time of the war. I had a minor medical deferment for feet, for a bone spur of the foot, which was minor," Trump said. "I was then entered into the draft because if I would have gotten a different number, I could have been drafted."

Raddatz called out Trump for resorting to "name-calling" and demeaning others for their physical appearance. Given his run for the GOP nomination, she asked him if that was "language beneath the office of the president."

"When people attack me, I let them have it back," Trump said. "You say physical appearance. You know, it's my hair but people are constantly attacking my hair. I don't see you coming to my defense."

Trump then turned up the attacks on McCain.

"I believe that I will do far more for veterans than John McCain has done for many, many years, with all talk no action," Trump said. "He's on television all the time, talking, talking. Nothing gets done."

In his op-ed, Trump showed how he personally helped the veterans himself back in New York City.

"I served as co-chairman of the New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission and was responsible, with a small group, for getting it built," Trump said. "Toward this end, I contributed over $1 million so our warriors can be honored in New York City with a proper memorial. I also helped finance and served as the grand marshal of the 1995 Nation's Day Parade, which honored over 25,000 veterans."

As for his current lead in the opinion polls, Trump provided an explanation to Raddatz.

"I will say what I want to say, and maybe that's why I'm leading in the polls because people are tired of hearing politicians and pollsters telling the politicians exactly what to say," Trump said.