Thursday, September 3, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He tried very hard to get people to forget all the things he's said out loud about military service.

This afternoon, Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic on Trump's long history of privately insulting the military, and the "suckers" and "losers" who volunteer to serve, including those killed in action.

The story cites four Trump administration officials who were with Trump when he famously refused to attend a memorial service on Veterans' Day for fallen American WWI soldiers. The service, which took place at Belleau Wood near Paris, was attended by other leaders from the NATO summit Trump was attending. Trump later claimed he couldn't travel there because his helicopter couldn't fly in the rain, which is pretty obviously not true. Goldberg's report details the sarcasm and contempt Trump expressed towards the "losers" buried at Belleau Wood, and his apparent confusion about who the "good guys" were in that war.

Goldberg's piece also details the remarks Trump made to his then-chief of staff, John Kelly, at the graveside of Kelly's son Robert, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

Trump was meant, on this visit, to join John Kelly in paying respects at his son’s grave, and to comfort the families of other fallen service members. But according to sources with knowledge of this visit, Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices. 

In what appears to be an urgent attempt to get out ahead of the story, Trump addressed the subject with reporters on his way back from a campaign event this evening. He said we was horrified that people would

think that I've made statements negative to our military and our fallen heroes, when nobody's done what I've done... It is a disgraceful situation, by a magazine that's a terrible magazine, I don't read it, but I just heard about it, they made it up, and probably it's a couple of people that have been failures in the [Trump] administration that I got rid of, that I couldn't get rid of fast enough, but — or — it was just made up.

Those remarks came shortly after Trump addressed the matter on Twitter:

I was never a big fan of John McCain, disagreed with him on many things including ridiculous endless wars and the lack of success he had in dealing with the VA and our great Vets, but the lowering of our Nations American Flags, and the first class funeral he was given by our......Country, had to be approved by me, as President, & I did so without hesitation  or complaint. Quite the contrary, I felt it was well deserved. I even sent Air Force One to bring his body, in casket, from Arizona to Washington. It was my honor to do so. Also, I never called......John a loser and swear on whatever, or whoever, I was asked to swear on, that I never called our great fallen soldiers anything other than HEROES. This is more made up Fake News given by disgusting & jealous failures in a disgraceful attempt to influence the 2020 Election!

Of course, there's videotape of Trump calling John McCain a loser, among other things, live on the campaign trail in 2015.

TRUMP: So he [McCain] insulted me, and he insulted everybody in that room, and I said, somebody should run against John McCain, who has been... you know... in my opinion not so hot, and I supported him. I supported him for president, I raised a million dollars for him, that's a lot of money, I supported him. He lost, he let us down. But you know, he lost. So I never liked him as much after that. 'Cause I don't like losers. But, but Frank, Frank, let me get to it. He hit me—

FRANK LUNTZ, MODERATOR: He's a war hero! He's a war hero. Five and half years—

TRUMP: He's not a war hero. He's a "war hero"  —he's a "war hero" because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, okay? I hate to tell you. 


The political problem, for Trump, is that stories like Goldberg's only confirm what most Americans have already heard—usually from Trump himself—about his opinions on the subject of people who serve in the armed forces. He derided the competency of military leaders on the campaign trail, and picked fights with grieving widows and parents of servicemembers killed in battle. He famously avoided military service during that war himself with help from a medical excuse written by a doctor whose landlord was Trump's father, then compared his supposed sexual exploits to the dangers faced by American troops. Trump threatened to disown his son, Donald Jr., if he joined the military, and his prenuptial contract with his second wife stipulated that he would end child support for his second daughter, Tiffany Trump, if she enlisted in the armed forces.

Republican candidates often do well with active-duty military, but Trump is the exception: he trails Joe Biden in a recent Military Times poll of servicemembers, 41.3% to 37.4%. Trump's disapproval rating with the troops is at 50%, with only 38% approving of his performance in office. 

Why does this matter?

  • The commander-in-chief of America's armed forces can't be someone who thinks this little of them.
  • The only reason to try this hard to knock down a story like this is if voters will tend to think it's true based on what they already know.