NASHVILLE - In a striking departure from most of Tennessee's top elected Republican leaders, state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick is blasting Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nominee's clashes with parents of a slain Muslim American soldier as well as Trump's hostility toward U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In a Wednesday post on his Facebook page, McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican and U.S. Army veteran, called both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the "Worst major party candidates since 1856. And Clinton began her career protesting our troops."
The 1856 election featured Democrat James Buchanan, Republican John Fremont and Millard Fillmore with the American Party. Buchanan won and is widely ranked among the worst U.S. presidents because historians see him as having failed to act aggressively in trying to address a fracturing union prior to the Civil War.
The post also linked to a Washington Post story on Trump's continuing feud with McCain, whom Trump has accused of not helping veterans enough and has so far declined to endorse in McCain's Senate reelection.
McCain had denounced Trump over the nominee's recent criticisms of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, both Muslims whose son, a U.S. Army captain, died in a 2004 suicide bombing in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart. At the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan cited his son's sacrifice and condemned Trump's proposed ban on Muslims immigrating into the U.S.
McCormick, who served as a nuclear, biological and chemical specialist during the first Gulf War, emphasized in an interview today he won't be voting for Clinton - he called her a "blatant liar" - but the Tennessee House leader said Trump won't get his vote right now.
"This idea of being disrespectful to people who have served our country is just over the line," McCormick said. "He did it over a year with John McCain and I thought that was irresponsible but wrote it off as just a personal attack rather than a general attack.
"But," McCormick added, "doing it again with this guy who literally gave his life to save the life of his comrades who were American soldiers, the way [Trump] handled that was just terrible."
Trump last year also criticized McCain, who served in Vietnam and became a prisoner of war and tortured, saying, "I like people who weren't captured."
McCormick said he wasn't happy with Trump "coming back and saying he didn't think he could endorse John McCain because he didn't think he'd done enough for veterans and comparing his sacrifices with his running a business as opposed to going to war."
Matters weren't helped, McCormick said, when Trump said after a military veteran gave him his Purple Heart that "he always wanted a purple heart.
"Well," McCormick said, "[Trump] could have had a chance a chance at a Purple Heart if he hadn't taken student deferments during Vietnam. All those things together really irritated me about Trump."
McCormick's Facebook page links to a Washington Post story on what McCain and Trump were doing during the Vietnam War with McCain in a hospital and Trump embarking on his business career and hitting the New York party scene.
But, McCormick said, "turning in the other direction and you've got Hillary Clinton who's a blatant liar and one of the most untrustworthy people who've ever run for president. And that's a pretty low bar to jump over. And she's met it. It's really discouraging to see these two candidates be our two credible choices to pick for the leader of our country."
McCormick said "we hope that Trump makes a quick turn around and actually sees the error of his ways and does the right things from here on out. And if he does I think he's got the chance to bring a lot of people like me along that want him to do the right thing.
"But certainly continuing to act like he's been doing before is not acceptable and in that case it'd be hard to vote for either one of them in my case," McCormick noted. "I think I'd vote for the congressman [Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.] and my self."
He said if he lived in the district of state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, he would vote for him but he resides in the district of state Sen. Sen. Bob Watson, R-Hixson, who is not up for election this year.
After the Trump/Khan flap developed, two of Tennessee's top elected officials, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., ignored Trump's remarks but praised Khan earlier this week.
Corker was considered by Trump as his running mate and has shown interest in becoming either U.S. Secretary of State or U.S. Treasury secretary.
Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said Corker "is proud of our men and women in uniform, including Captain Khan, who courageously gave his life in defense of our country. He believes Captain Khan's service to our nation should be celebrated."
Alexander spokesman Louie Brogdon said Alexander "is grateful for the service of Captain Khan and the sacrifices he and his family have made for this country."