Over the last year, a few themes have emerged from the Donald Trump campaign. Illegal immigration, lopsided trade deals, and the need for domestic law and order chief among them. But one theme that he has circled back to time and again is his personal respect for our military veterans, who he says have been treated abysmally by our government. Based on this obvious, heartfelt respect and Trump’s pointed disagreement with some of the U.S.’s foreign involvement in overseas wars, many vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are standing strongly behind him as we head into the final days of the election.
A new feature story in the New York Times shows that, despite some of Trump’s controversial statements, those vets see in him a much-needed turn of the page from the Bush Doctrine:
“When we jump into wars without having a real plan, things like Vietnam and things like Iraq and Afghanistan happen,” said William Hansen, a former Marine who served two National Guard tours in Iraq. “This is 16 years. This is longer than Vietnam.”
In small military towns in California and North Carolina, veterans of all eras cheer Mr. Trump’s promises to fire officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs. His attacks on political correctness evoke their frustrations with tortured rules of engagement crafted to serve political, not military, ends. In Mr. Trump’s forceful assertion of strength, they find a balm for wounds that left them broken and torn.
Trump is closing the gap on Hillary Clinton in nationwide polls, but he has never been in danger of losing military vets to the Democrat. An October survey by Fox News had him leading Hillary by 19 percentage points among vets registered to vote, even while lagging three points behind among the general population. A recent Gallup poll showed that 43% of vets view Trump favorably, while only 30% have a favorable view of Hillary Clinton.
The numbers show that there has been a considerable change of opinion both within conservative circles and within the military itself. A few short years ago, it was rare to find Republicans or conservative vets who would criticize W. or the war in Iraq. Trump’s outspoken criticism of the war and its commander-in-chief, though, emboldened many to finally agree that the intervention may have been a mistake. A mistake, of course, that was only aggravated by Obama’s mishandling of the withdrawal.
At a time when threats from Russia, Iran, and ISIS loom in the distance, vets and conservatives alike may prefer a president who will choose confrontation as a last resort.