Biden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign is courting veterans and members of the military in key swing states, betting that his personal connection to the armed forces and the fallout from reports of President Trump’s disparaging remarks about fallen service members will dislodge at least a portion of the historically Republican-leaning bloc.

Biden held a roundtable with veterans in the battleground state of Florida on Tuesday and over the weekend launched ads aimed at veteran voters in Pennsylvania, another must-win state for Democrats in November.

The outreach comes as Trump faces blowback over a report in The Atlantic that he referred to slain service members as “losers” and “suckers.” Trump vehemently denies ever making the remarks. But he reignited controversy over Labor Day weekend when he said leaders at the Pentagon don’t support him because they are beholden to the defense industry. He has also attacked former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, and excerpts released last week from famed journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” allege he once referred to generals as “a bunch of p——.”

Biden slammed Trump’s reported remarks during his visit to Florida on Tuesday, saying Trump “has no idea about the ideas that animate women and men who sign up to serve.”

“Nowhere are his faults more glaring and offensive, to me at least, than when it comes to his denigration of our service members, veterans, wounded warriors, the fallen,” Biden said. “Quite frankly, it makes me very upset the way he gets in front of a camera and crows about how much he’s done for veterans, then turns around and insults our service members and fallen heroes when the camera’s off.”

Widespread support for Biden among the military community — a bloc that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 – would be a game changer ahead of November.

“In this election, in particular, military voters, including veterans and military families, are incredibly important voting blocs because of their overconcentration in key states — states like Florida, North Carolina and Arizona,” said Dan Caldwell, a Marine Corps veteran and senior adviser for the right-leaning group Concerned Veterans for America. “It’s no surprise that former Vice President Biden’s campaign is targeting them and Trump’s campaign is targeting them.”

A Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday found Trump with a narrow lead over Biden among military voters in Florida, 50 percent to 46 percent. 

And other polling shows Trump’s nationwide support among the military eroding after he won more than 60 percent of veterans’ votes in 2016. 

A Military Times poll conducted in May of 2016 found that then-candidate Trump had 54 percent support among active-duty troops, reservists and National Guardsmen, while then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had 25 percent support among the group. 

Four years later, another Military Times poll, released late last month, showed Biden with 41 percent support among active-duty troops, while Trump trailed at 37 percent support. The same survey found that the president’s approval rating with active-duty troops also appeared to be underwater, with roughly 47 percent reporting an unfavorable view of the president and about 38 percent reporting a favorable view.

Participants in Military Times polls are pulled from the publication’s subscribers and databases. The latest poll was conducted before the Atlantic article containing Trump’s reported disparaging remarks about fallen service members was published. 

Biden’s supporters say the narrowing gap between Trump and his Democratic rival is the result of not only his controversial remarks about military service members, but also their records and personal ties to the armed forces. 

In addition to working with the military in the Senate and as vice president, Biden and his family have a history of reaching out to other military families through initiatives like Joining Forces, which was launched by Jill Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama during the Obama administration. 

“Joe Biden is someone who has always been a champion for service members, veterans, and their families. It’s deeply personal to him as the father of an Iraq War veteran in Beau Biden, and he’s made a point throughout his time in the Senate and as vice president fighting to increase funding for MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected] during some of the worst days of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Will Goodwin, director of government relations at the progressive group Vote Vets. “Contrast with Donald Trump, who at the time was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice and running around New York living his life.” 

But Trump and his supporters tout his record in office, citing a number of achievements, including signing the National Defense Authorization Act and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, as well as securing funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“Speaking purely from a policy perspective, I think the current administration, the current president has a good story to tell,” said Caldwell. “The president, for example has been working to end the war in Afghanistan, they’ve passed things like the VA Mission Act, which would increase health care choice for veterans.” 

“It is not surprising that the president’s campaign is leaning into those issues and highlighting his accomplishments on those fronts,” he added. 

The Trump campaign has also taken aim at Biden for a reported pattern of negligence of veterans at VA hospitals during the Obama administration. 

“President Trump’s America First Agenda will be an agenda that is veterans first,” said former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R), a retired naval officer, during a campaign call with reporters on Tuesday. “Joe Biden is a candidate of endless foreign wars, a crippled military and depleted support system for our nation’s heroes.”   

However, the Atlantic article detailing Trump’s reported comments disparaging fallen service members has given the Biden campaign an opening to go on the offensive. 

The Biden campaign seized on the Atlantic article earlier this month.

“When my son volunteered to join the United States military, as the attorney general, and went to Iraq for the year — won the Bronze Star and other commendations — he wasn’t a sucker,” Biden said shortly after the report was published. 

Meanwhile, in a call with reporters earlier this month, Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who has publicly sparred with Trump in the past, said Trump’s alleged comments in the article show the president’s life is a “testament to selfishness.” 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) hit Trump in the same call, invoking Trump’s deferment from the Vietnam War draft due to a bone spurs diagnosis despite an otherwise healthy physical examination. 

“I take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs any day,” said Duckworth, who lost both her legs while serving in Iraq. 

Trump still maintains vocal support from members of the military community. More than 200 retired military officials endorsed Trump’s reelection bid in a letter released on Monday, warning of what they said was the Democratic Party’s radical agenda. 

“As senior leaders of America’s military, we took an oath to defend the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” the letter read. “At present, our country is now confronted with enemies here and abroad, as well as a once-in-a-century pandemic. As retired military officers, we believe that Donald J. Trump has been tested as few other presidents have and is the proven leader to confront these dangers.”

The letter included the signatures of former military leaders who have endorsed Trump in the past, including Ronny Jackson, the president’s former White House physician and current GOP candidate for the U.S. House in Texas.

Others argue that ultimately policy will play a bigger role in military voters’ decisions rather than Trump’s history of controversial remarks about the military. 

“I’m not going to say that these reports aren’t going to sway anybody, but with the current environment, a lot of this just isn’t breaking through to your average voter, and a lot of the discussion is focused within the Beltway,” Caldwell said. “They’re paying attention to how policies are impacting them on a personal level, and that’s why I think it’s important to have a discussion about the policies of each candidate.” 

Biden’s supporters say that the former vice president’s campaign is in a good spot when it comes to military policies and engagement with the military community, citing his and his family’s familiarity with causes close to the group

“I think that Joe Biden is in a position of strength when it comes to the question of being commander in chief, and when it comes to reaching military and veteran voters,” Goodwin said. 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Mattis Joe Biden Michelle Obama Tammy Duckworth

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