Why Some Veterans Are Sticking With Donald Trump

November 3rd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Presidential candidate Donald Trump's relationship with veterans is marked missteps and scandals, including insults lobbed at Gold Star family members and prisoners of war. Despite all of that, the Republican nominee still holds sizeable support among veterans.


This report from New York Times' Nicholas Confessore, which draws from research and interviews with dozens of military servicemen, attempts to explain why.

As his critics continue to sound the alarm about the potential foreign policy risks of a Trump presidency, some veterans are encouraged by the prospect. Those who have returned from combat, many injured and socially alienated by the experience, have found Trump's blunt proposals for military engagement in the Middle East, his pro-military stumping, and his repeated attacks on the political establishment attractive.

Trump is leading his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, by 19 points in veteran support, according to an October Fox News poll.

Here's how three veteran described their support to the Times.

"He calls it out. We have intense emotion connected to these wars. The way it was politicized, the way they changed the way we fight in a war setting — it’s horrible how they did that."

"The Iraq war was a disaster. He is at least not trying to tiptoe around it. And I think some of the other Republicans were afraid of it."

"Mr. Trump is a breath of fresh air because he is promoting peace through strength."

The political outsider might not have any personal ties to the military or foreign policy experience to bolster his combat proposals. He might have claimed to know more about the Islamic State than military generals and proposed ethically questionable attacks in the Middle East. However, to some, those shortcomings pale in comparison to the continuation of a military strategy and policy decisions that left them worse off.

The unemployment rate for veterans during the recession far outpaced the general public, peaking at 13.9 percent unemployment for recent veterans and 9.2 for nonveterans, according to a 2012 study. Pensions for veterans were cut by about one percent as part of a budget-cutting sequester deal between President Barack Obama and Congress, CNN reported. And prolonged wait times for medical treatment at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been a consistent source of frustration for some veterans who view the issue as evidence of the federal government's disregard for them.

According Confessore, Trump is widely thought of as the imperfect changemaker.

What's more, Trump is doing something on the trail that's getting veterans' attention. He's lauding them on the stump and soliciting their support at events. As one veteran told Confessore, Trump has consistently expressed "an empathy and a sentiment about what the military has been through, the low morale."

That's not to say that Trump's veteran support is statistically remarkable — especially in contrast to previous Republican nominees. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney earned 24 percent more votes from veterans than Obama in 2012, and Arizona Sen. John McCain received 22 percent more in 2008, The Huffington Post reported in a May article titled "Shock Poll: Trump Drastically Underperforming With Veterans." There are also plenty of examples of veterans who have come out against Trump.

What the Times report does reveal is that Trump has strong appeal among a subset of veterans. And that support comes from a familiar place, of economic anxiety and anger at the establishment over broken promises.

[h/t The New York Times]