In response to a story in The Atlantic that cited anonymous White House sources as saying that President Trump called American soldiers killed in war “suckers” and “losers,” Trump claimed that while the top brass of the U.S. military is not “in love” with him, soldiers are, despite a recent poll that has him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden among active duty service members.
Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, reported last week that Trump refused to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery during a trip to France in 2018 because it is “filled with losers,” according to four sources described as having firsthand knowledge of the discussion; the Associated Press, CNN and Fox News later corroborated the story with administration sources.
The story touched off a PR firestorm for Trump, with the Biden campaign and independent groups putting out ads hitting him for the alleged comments and Biden himself offering a fiery excoriation and saying he believes it to be true based on Trump’s past statement that the late Sen. John McCain is “not a hero” because he was captured during the Vietnam War.
During his press conference on Monday, Trump doubled down on his criticism of McCain, saying he has “always been on the opposite side” and “never been a fan” of McCain because “he wanted endless wars and I didn’t.”
Trump offered similar criticism of top military generals and Pentagon officials, with whom he has often had a strained relationship, accusing them of wanting to “do nothing but fight wars” so “all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Trump instead claimed to have the backing off rank-and-file soldiers because “we’re getting out of the endless wars” and “we defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate.”
4 percentage points. That’s how much Biden, whose late son Beau fought in the Iraq war, leads Trump among active duty service members in a Military Times poll released last month, with 41% of the 1,018 troops surveyed saying they support Biden while 37% back Trump.
Trump’s condemnation of military leaders as perpetuating the military industrial complex comes as a sharp departure from routine praise in the past. In recent months he’s lauded generals and admirals as “great people” who have done a “great job” combating coronavirus; he’s also appointed a former Raytheon lobbyist, Mark Esper, to lead the Defense Department.
Trump and Republicans have pushed back hard on Goldberg’s story, with Trump calling it a “hoax” and “totally made up,” citing 15 former officials who have gone on the record denying it and maintaining his initial claim that rain was what prevented him from visiting the cemetery.