WASHINGTON (CNN) — Donald Trump on Saturday questioned whether Sen. John McCain — who spent over five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War — is a war hero.
“He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK? I hate to tell you,” Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. “I believe perhaps he is a war hero.”
The comments met with a mix of gasps, laughter and some applause from an audience that was present during a question-and-answer session with the real estate mogul.
McCain, a Naval aviator, was shot down in 1967 over North Vietnam and fractured both arms and legs after being ejected from his aircraft. He was repeatedly tortured during his stay in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” and was released in 1973 as part of the Paris Peace Accords.
McCain, who has limited mobility in his arms following his war experience, received the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his service.
Trump, meanwhile, received several deferments during the war, the New York Daily News reported in 2011.
Trump’s comments were swiftly condemned on Twitter early Saturday afternoon, with several Republican 2016 contenders blasting the remarks.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is also running for president, chastised Trump’s remarks.
“.@SenJohnMcCain is an American hero & all POW’s deserve our nation’s highest debt of gratitude. @realDonaldTrump’s comments are disgraceful,” Perry tweeted.
Perry, who has been feuding with Trump this week, also released a statement in which he called Trump’s comments “a new low in American politics.”
“His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President,” he said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also defended McCain on Twitter.
“John McCain is an American hero. I have nothing but respect for his service to our country,” the presidential candidate tweeted.
This is the second time this week that Trump has taken a jab at the 2008 Republican nominee.
After McCain criticized Trump’s visit to Phoenix last weekend, saying he “fired up the crazies” in regard to his controversial comments on illegal immigration, Trump called the Arizona senator a “dummy” on Twitter.
“.@SenJohnMcCain should be defeated in the primaries. Graduated last in his class at Annapolis–dummy,” he said.