US elections: Trump′s support at risk over alleged military insults | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 06.09.2020
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US elections: Trump's support at risk over alleged military insults

Donald Trump has come under fire for allegedly calling fallen US soldiers "losers." The military is revered in the US, and Trump claims the charges are false. Any perceived disrespect could hurt his election chances.

US President Donald Trump is currently facing tough accusations: According to a report in the news magazine The Atlantic, Trump called US soldiers killed in action in World War I "suckers" and "losers" during a trip to France in November 2018.

Trump's trip made news back then when he refused to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris to honor the dead, during ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. The president blamed bad weather, saying his helicopter couldn't fly him to the cemetery in the rain. But according to The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote this week's explosive news story, the real reason was Trump's lack of respect for troops who had died in battle.

The White House has categorically denied the story, which cites a number of anonymous sources.

"This report is patently false," a statement sent to The Atlantic reads. "President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He's demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn: delivering on his promise to give our troops a much needed pay raise, increasing military spending, signing critical veterans reforms, and supporting military spouses. These nameless anecdotes have no basis in fact and are offensive fiction."

Members of Trump's inner circle have also harshly criticized the accusations put forth in the report. Even First Lady Melania Trump, who hardly ever gets involved in the political back-and-forth between her husband's supporters and opponents, has spoken out

In a tweet on Saturday morning, she said the story wasn't true and warned that it was dangerous to believe anonymous sources. "This is not journalism — It is activism."

President Trump himself is calling on conservative Fox News, usually his preferred TV channel, to fire a reporter who said she had confirmed parts of The Atlantic report, but who, according to Trump, had never called the White House for comment.

Showing military support crucial in US politics

Trump and his team are pulling out all the stops to refute the report, because any sort of perceived disrespect to the military can be poisonous to a US politician's career. Current soldiers, veterans and former prisoners of war enjoy an extremely high standing in American society, even more so among conservatives, Trump's target group, but among liberals as well.

During the Republican Convention in late August, the Trump administration played up the president's support for the troops, with many military families and veterans from as far back as World War II and as recent as the war in Afghanistan appearing on screen and praising Trump in glowing words. Less than two months before the presidential election on November 3, the president cannot afford to lose this demographic.

Trump's opponents in turn have jumped on the story. Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, has released a campaign ad with the disparaging quotes from The Atlantic playing over images of military cemeteries, ending with the message, "If you don't respect our troops, you cannot lead them."

Neither Trump nor Joe Biden has served in the military. But Biden's son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, was stationed in Iraq with his National Guard unit for a year.

The Democratic candidate had a plea to potential voters.

"How would you feel if you had a kid in Afghanistan right now?" he asked at a press conference on Friday. "How would you feel if you lost a son or daughter, husband, wife? ... You know in your heart, you know in your gut: It's deplorable."

Trump on McCain: 'I like people who weren't captured'

The Trump campaign has vehemently rejected the accusations about the president's alleged comments in 2018. But his supporters can't refute the fact that Trump disparaged the military achievements of late John McCain, a well-respected former Republican senator from Arizona and the 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

McCain, who died in 2018, was considered a war hero by politicians on both sides of the aisle. His plane was shot down during the Vietnam War and McCain was held captive by the North Vietnamese from 1967 until 1973. During his time as a POW, he was tortured and sustained wounds that left him with lifelong physical disabilities.

Trump, however, has made it clear that he was not impressed with the senator's long military career.

"He was a war hero because he was captured," Trump said about McCain on the campaign trail in Iowa in July 2015. "I like people who weren't captured."

The animosity went both ways: Trump wasn't invited to McCain's funeral in 2018. And according to the article in The Atlantic, the president told his senior staff he didn't want anything to do with the event.

"We're not going to support that loser's funeral," Trump allegedly said.

The article also cites sources that claim the president became furious when he saw flags lowered to half-staff to honor McCain. 

McCain's widow, Cindy, didn't directly comment on the story in The Atlantic. But the day after it was published, she shared images of the military men in her family on Twitter, along with the caption "Duty, Honor, Country. Four generations who have served and are serving."

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