Donald J. Trump reeled on Sunday amid a sustained campaign of criticism by the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq and a rising outcry within his own party over his rough and religiously charged dismissal of the couple.
The confrontation between the parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and Mr. Trump has emerged as an unexpected and potentially pivotal flash point in the general election. Mr. Trump has plainly struggled to respond to the reproach of a military family who lost a son, and has answered their criticism derisively ― first implying that Ms. Khan had been forbidden to speak at the Democratic National Convention, then declaring that Mr. Khan had “no right” to question Mr. Trump’s familiarity with the Constitution.
And Mr. Trump’s usual political tool kit has appeared to fail him. He earned no reprieve with his complaints that Mr. Khan had been unfair to him; on Sunday morning, he claimed on Twitter that Mr. Khan had “viciously attacked” him. Mr. Trump and his advisers tried repeatedly to change the subject to Islamic terrorism, to no avail.
Instead, Mr. Trump appeared to be caught on Sunday in one of the biggest crises of his campaign, rivaling the uproar in June after he suggested a federal judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel, was biased because of his Mexican heritage. By going after a military family and trafficking in ethnic stereotypes, Mr. Trump once again breached multiple norms of American politics, redoubling pressure on his fellow Republicans to choose between defending his remarks or breaking publicly with their nominee.
Mr. Trump also risked reopening controversies related to religious tolerance and military service: His treatment of the Khans has brought on a new wave of criticism of his proposal to ban Muslim immigration, and of his mockery of Senator John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Democratic leaders and candidates for Congress began over the weekend to call on Republicans to disavow Mr. Trump. And the top two Republicans in Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, signaled their strong disagreement with Mr. Trump, but stopped short of condemning him in blunt terms.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, sternly reprimanded Mr. Trump on Sunday morning, saying at a church in Cleveland that he had answered the Khan family’s sacrifice with disrespect for them and for American traditions of religious tolerance.
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“Mr. Khan paid the ultimate sacrifice in his family, didn’t he?” Mrs. Clinton said. “And what has he heard from Donald Trump? Nothing but insults, degrading comments about Muslims, a total misunderstanding of what made our country great.”
Mrs. Clinton chastised Mr. Trump again on Sunday in Ashland, Ohio, calling his comments part of a disturbing pattern. “He called Mexicans rapists and criminals,” Mrs. Clinton said. “He said a federal judge was unqualified because he had Mexican heritage ― someone born in the neighboring state of Indiana. He’s called women pigs. He’s mocked a reporter with a disability.”
Mr. and Ms. Khan stiffened their denunciation of Mr. Trump on Sunday, saying that he lacked the moral character and empathy to be president. Mr. Khan, who addressed the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, said on “Meet the Press” on NBC that Mr. Trump had shown disrespect to his wife, and he accused Mr. Trump of running a campaign “of hatred, of derision, of dividing us.”
Addressing “patriotic Americans that would probably vote for Donald Trump,” Mr. Khan said, “I appeal to them not to vote for hatred, not to vote for fear-mongering. Vote for unity. Vote for the goodness of this country.”
And Ms. Khan, in an opinion article published in The Washington Post, rebuked Mr. Trump for suggesting earlier in the weekend that she had not been permitted to speak at the Democratic convention. Ms. Khan said she did not speak because she did not believe she could remain composed while talking about her son.
“All the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart,” Ms. Khan wrote, using the term for surviving family members of those killed in war. “Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”