Trump gets slight rebuke from top Florida Republicans, but not Rick Scott

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is under fire for his criticism of the family of a slain American soldier. [Associated Press] 
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is under fire for his criticism of the family of a slain American soldier. [Associated Press] 
Published Aug. 3, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Donald Trump drew mild denunciations Tuesday from three of Florida's highest ranking Republican elected officials for criticizing the family of a slain American soldier.

Gov. Rick Scott, however, was not one of them, sparing his party's nominee any criticism.

"I'm never going to agree with every candidate on what they're going to say," Scott told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. "Listen to Donald Trump. He believes in our military. He wants to build up our military."

Trump is under fire from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Gold Star families, military leaders, President Barack Obama and fellow Republicans in Congress, all of whom demand that he apologize to the parents of Humayun Khan, a U.S. Army captain and a Muslim who was killed by a car bomb in Iraq.

The flap started at last week's Democratic National Convention when Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004, said Trump "smears the character of Muslims." In response, Trump faulted Khan's wife, Ghazala Khan, for remaining silent on the convention stage, which intensified criticism of Trump.

After Obama called Trump "unfit for office" and urged Republicans to abandon their nominee, Scott stood firm.

"I have Donald Trump over here — a business person," Scott said. "Over here, I have Hillary Clinton, a career politician who's never created a job in her life."

Yet Scott found himself alone in his full support of Trump. All three Cabinet members, all Republican, criticized Trump to varying degrees.

The most critical was Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who said it was "out of bounds" for Trump to question why Mrs. Khan did not speak at the convention.

"He owes an apology and he owes it fast," Atwater said. Still, he didn't follow Obama's advice. Atwater said he supports Trump, will vote for Trump, and will appear with Trump at a Republican rally if asked.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she won't drop her support of Trump and did not call for an apology, but she said she disagreed with his comments.

"He is an American patriot, an American hero, end of story," Bondi said of Humayun Khan. "Would I have ever said anything about his mother standing up there, absolutely silent, not saying anything? Absolutely not."

The third Cabinet member, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, said: "Capt. Khan is an American hero. … Any effort to say otherwise is abhorrent and dishonorable. It makes me question how badly he (Trump) wants to win. He keeps running his mouth about the most ridiculous things and attacking a family who has sacrificed so much for the freedoms we all enjoy."

Asked if he will support Trump in November, Putnam said: "I think I've said all I need to say about Trump today."

Trump holds campaign events in Daytona Beach and Jacksonville today, in a pivotal battleground state with one of the largest populations of veterans in the United States. It's unclear if Scott, who is the national chair of the pro-Trump Rebuilding America super PAC, will be there. He's scheduled events in Pensacola and Panama City on the Zika virus.

Not all Republicans are standing by Trump, especially state lawmakers running in competitive races.

For instance, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, is trying to win a state Senate district that Obama won decisively in 2012.

"Both presidential candidates are terrible. I think they offset each other," said Artiles, who said he's been too busy campaigning to follow the latest Trump controversy. "I'm very happy (Sen.) Marco Rubio is at the top of the ticket."

In Tampa Bay, state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said on Twitter: "Attacking a Gold Star family and diminishing a Purple Heart is beyond the pale and utterly indefensible. GOP is so much better than this."

Times/Herald staff writers Michael Auslen and Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at and follow @stevebousquet.