Donald Trump's slam of his Vietnam War record caught Arizona Sen. John McCain by surprise, he said Saturday, but "it's important to note that he attacks everybody."
"I was surprised. I honestly was surprised," McCain, 78, who was held by the Viet Cong for nearly six years, told The Arizona Republic.
"I'd never had a clash with him before. I was surprised."
McCain, who is seeking his sixth term on Capitol Hill, noted that Trump has attacked other GOP presidential candidates former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
"It's sort of his trademark," the senator said. "He attacks the media, but, more importantly, he attacks all of the other candidates.
"He has something derogatory to say about all of them. He doesn't just say he disagrees with them. He casts aspersions on them."
The controversy began last week when McCain described Trump supporters at a July 11 rally in Phoenix as "crazies" — and the billionaire businessman hit back by slamming the senator's war record.
Trump doesn't owe McCain an apology, the 2008 presidential candidate told the Republic, "because I'm in the [public] arena.
"But he does owe an apology to every single veteran who was captured and was a prisoner of war."
In addition, McCain said that the other GOP presidential candidates can best debate Trump in upcoming contests by not piling up on him.
"If you gang up on Donald Trump, then obviously you're going to have sympathy for him," he told a panel at the Aspen Institute in Colorado, also on Saturday.
The challengers must ensure that they get their points across and not get caught in a back-and-forth with Trump, he said.
"Answer the questions," McCain said,
ABC News reports. "Do not ... not so much ignore something like a direct attack.
"You don't want to totally ignore him, but get your message out."
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