KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The White House, veterans groups and even Republican leaders are criticizing Donald Trump today for his comments about the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan. Khan was a Muslim-American soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004. His parents, Khizr and Ghazala, appeared at the Democratic National Convention last week where Mr. Khan condemned Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration.
NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is with the Trump campaign in Columbus, Ohio, where the candidate held a town hall earlier. Hi there, Don.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So what does Trump have to say about all this?
GONYEA: How about nothing...
GONYEA: ...At least nothing at this event today. The (laughter) - you could feel an effort to avoid it on this stage. So when you watch him do a town hall like this was, he bounces around a lot from topic to topic. And at one point he started talking about how the news media pay attention when he tweets. And it's worth connecting this here. Early this morning, he was tweeting about the Khans.
GONYEA: He didn't say anything on this stage, but he was tweeting about them. They were doing TV interviews, and he started tweeting that Mr. Khan had viciously attacked him, ensuring that this controversy wouldn't fade away. So it gave the story legs for another day. But here in Columbus, he really tried to stay on message, and that message was the economy and the evils of NAFTA and other such trade deals and of course the Ohio economy.
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DONALD TRUMP: The people of Ohio are special people, and they're smart people. And they know - when it's happening to them, they know great things are going to happen. We are going to turn this state into a manufacturing behemoth. We're going to bring your jobs back. We're going to bring your companies back.
TRUMP: We're going to bring - companies that left are going to come back because it will no longer be economic for them to continue where they are. We're going to bring companies back.
GONYEA: So that's obviously a pitch to blue-collar workers here. He talked about the weak GDP report that came out on Friday, and that right there is another reminder that there is some bad news for Hillary Clinton. That would be the topic of discussion. Again, it would have come up more if Trump had not stirred up this other controversy.
MCEVERS: So Trump on message, but he has received a lot of criticism in the past 48 hours. And as we mentioned, it's not just from Democrats, right?
GONYEA: Absolutely. It's from Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and even from the governor of this state, John Kasich of Ohio, who skipped the RNC and who has famously not endorsed Trump - also from Senator John McCain who has tangled with Trump in the past. And he put out a statement this morning that said, quote, "while our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us."
Also the VFW put out a statement saying that what Trump has said about the Khans was out of bounds, and the VFW will not tolerate that.
MCEVERS: What are people at Trump's events saying about all this?
GONYEA: They say everything from, let Trump be Trump - some kind of wince and say, well, I wish he hadn't gone there, and some say, well, maybe it's been a distraction. But look; he's making a point about fighting Islamic terrorism, radical Islamic terrorism. That of course echoes the campaign's own lines. So you hear that from a lot of people.
MCEVERS: And the Clinton campaign, you know, honored the Khan family during the Democratic National Convention. It would seem the Democrats don't need to do a whole lot more here. But are we seeing more comments from them, from the Democratic side?
GONYEA: Now, well, they're really taking the high road. They're being positive and trying to be upbeat. And interestingly, Hillary Clinton was asked over the weekend about charges made by the mother of an American killed in Benghazi. She was asked about that on Fox News. She did not say anything critical of that mother.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Don Gonyea in Columbus, Ohio. Thank you very much.
GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.