Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks during a Phoenix Memorial Day ceremony on May 30. (Ralph Freso/Associated Press)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a tough statement, the toughest to date from a Republican, in support of the Gold Star Khan family in the face of Donald Trump’s despicable attacks. “I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement,” he said. “I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.” He continued:

Captain Khan’s death in Iraq, on June 8th, 2004, was a shining example of the valor and bravery inculcated into our military. When a suicide bomber accelerated his vehicle toward a facility with hundreds of American soldiers, Captain Khan ordered his subordinates away from the danger. Then he ran toward it.

“It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party,” McCain said. “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

Naming Trump and condemning his behavior go beyond criticism from other Republicans. McCain, nevertheless, has not pulled his endorsement. We asked his office if he now or in the future would withdraw his support, and how he could still maintain his support for Trump. No response was forthcoming.

This leaves McCain, like other Republicans, simultaneously condemning Trump’s horrible rhetoric but nevertheless telling the country by virtue of his endorsement that Trump is fit to be president — and preferable to Hillary Clinton. This is cognitive dissonance on steroids.

Meanwhile, a group of Gold Star families of 23 fallen vets is coming forth to condemn Trump’s comments and demand an apology. They write:

Your recent comments regarding the Khan family were repugnant, and personally offensive to us. When you question a mother’s pain, by implying that her religion, not her grief, kept her from addressing an arena of people, you are attacking us. When you say your job building buildings is akin to our sacrifice, you are attacking our sacrifice.

You are not just attacking us, you are cheapening the sacrifice made by those we lost.

They demand an apology “to the Khans, to all Gold Star families, and to all Americans for your offensive, and frankly anti-American, comments.” Trump is now in an ongoing battle with arguably the most sympathetic Americans. And they are right: It is anti-American — in fact, inhumane — to attack the parents of a fallen soldier, and claim one’s business is as big a sacrifice as losing a son.

There is no escape for McCain and others. Either they think Trump is prepared and fit to be president — suggesting his repeated outbursts, overt bigotry, abject ignorance and incessantly lying are not disqualifying — or they believe his behavior to be so beyond the pale as to negate blind partisan loyalty. Right now they are saying the former. As things stand, they continue to put their own perceived political interests and party fidelity above principle and simple human decency.

At this point, the level of disgust with not just Trump but also his defenders threatens the viability of the GOP. Why is this party worth supporting if it cannot bring itself to reject a character as intrinsically detestable as Trump, someone who would endanger the country and disgrace us in the eyes of the world? You’ve got me.

UPDATE: Trump got applause speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention recently. Now this: “‘Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression,’ Brian Duffy, the VFW’s newly elected commander-in-chief, said in a statement on Monday.”