- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Donald Trump handily won South Carolina’s Republican primary, and the state is solidly red, all but certain to go into his column in the general election.

But both of the state’s U.S. senators, both Republicans, are criticizing the GOP presidential nominee’s treatment of the parents of a decorated Muslim Army captain killed in Iraq, with one saying Trump is treacherously wading into an area previously untouched in politics: criticism of the families of fallen soldiers.

“This is going to a place where we’ve never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Associated Press on Monday. “There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics - that you don’t do - like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you.”

For the past several days, Trump has been in a war of words with the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2004. At last week’s Democratic National Convention, his father, Khizr Khan, criticized Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.

Trump has responded by lashing out at Khan, implying that his wife, who stood beside him at the podium, didn’t speak because, as a Muslim woman, she wasn’t permitted to do so.

In the days since, the Khans have made the rounds on television, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday that Trump “is a black soul” and calling on congressional GOP leaders to repudiate Trump’s comments.

In statements released Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned any criticism of Muslim Americans who serve their country and rejected the idea of a Muslim travel ban - an idea proposed by Trump earlier in the campaign. But neither statement mentioned Trump by name or repudiated him.

“The problem is, ‘unacceptable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Graham said further, of Trump’s handling of the situation. The former presidential contender has said he’ll support neither the billionaire businessman nor Hillary Clinton in November.

Tim Scott, South Carolina’s junior senator, initially supported Marco Rubio’s presidential bid, ultimately reluctantly saying he would support the party’s eventual nominee. Contacted by AP on Monday, Scott said Gold Star families like the Khans “deserve our utmost respect and admiration.”

Not mentioning Trump by name, Scott went on to seemingly characterize the entire kerfuffle as a distraction from the general election, on which he said Republicans needed to hone in, now.

“Heading into November, our party must have a laser focus on the issues that will defeat Hillary Clinton. Period,” Scott said.

Rep. Mark Sanford said in a statement that Trump’s “seemingly never ending parade of insults needs to stop, and the person to lead that effort will be Mr. Trump himself.”

Sanford said while Trump’s comments draw media attention that was useful to his candidacy when the field was crowded with 17 candidates, they don’t win the independent voter who he says it essential in a two-way contest. He said the comments are impacting efforts to bring party faithful together.

“It is Mr. Trump who is making unification of the party difficult,” Sanford said. “Each new altercation brings with it more concern from the voters I speak with on why unification around him is growing more and more difficult …”

Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, the first elected official to back Trump’s candidacy and who gave a nominating speech at the Republican National Convention, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the situation. Todd Rutherford, the leader of South Carolina’s state House Democrats, on Monday called on both McMaster and Gov. Nikki Haley to pull their support of Trump.

Haley, who, like Scott, supported Rubio, has been critical of Trump but that she would back the GOP nominee. On Monday, the governor - whose husband is in the South Carolina National Guard - told AP the Kahn family has “the standing to say whatever they want in the political process and should not face criticism for it.”

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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