WASHINGTON: White House hopeful Donald Trump jumped far into the lead in the race for the 2016 Republican nomination, a poll showed Monday, despite a backlash over his comments disparaging immigrants and US war hero John McCain.
The hotel magnate was the favorite for 24 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters, the highest percentage and widest lead so far in the campaign, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
He far outpaced his rivals Scott Walker (13 percent) and Jeb Bush (12 percent). The next seven had support ranging from eight to three percent.
But the survey was conducted from Thursday to Sunday, and the Post said most of the participants were interviewed before Trump lambasted McCain on Saturday.
Trump’s popularity among those questioned dropped significantly after that latest outburst, the Post said.
But the first official Republican presidential debate is not due until August, with primaries and caucuses for the party’s presidential nomination taking place next year. So polls could shift significantly in the meantime.
McCain said Trump should apologize to veterans after he dismissed the US senator’s military record because he was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War.
Trump sparked outrage over the weekend when suggested that a serviceman who was captured could not be a real hero, in reference to McCain’s time in a Vietnamese prison.
Many politicians rallied to McCain’s defense, but the defeated former presidential candidate downplayed the attack on his own record, while defending fellow veterans.
“Those who inspired us to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been capable of doing, those are the people that I think he owes an apology to,” McCain told MSNBC television.
The senator, an influential Republican foreign policy hawk, said it was wrong to call into question someone’s military record because they were captured.
“I think the point here is that there are so many men and some women who served and sacrificed and happened to be held prisoner and somehow to denigrate that in anyway, their service, I think is offensive to most of our veterans,” he said.
McCain was responding for the first time since the notoriously outspoken Trump’s astonishing attack.
The 78-year-old decorated aviator was shot down, captured, tortured and spent five years in a prison camp during the Vietnam war.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump told a political gathering in Iowa on Saturday. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
Trump is known for his off-the-cuff and provocative statements, but his outburst targeting McCain sparked a firestorm of bipartisan condemnation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, a Democrat who also served during the Vietnam War, lashed out at the comment, as did former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Republican.
For his part, Trump again refused to back down from his remarks, saying he has been unfairly portrayed by the media.
“The media has done such a false number as usual,” Trump told NBC.
Trump said the press had not presented his quotes in context, stressing that he said McCain was a war hero numerous times and insisting he was attacking his post-war political record.
“Well I’m not a fan of John McCain, he’s done a terrible job for the vets,” Trump said.
The eccentric billionaire’s remarks have sparked controversy before, in particular with attacks on Mexican immigrants that offended many of the voters that Republicans will need to court before next year’s race.