WASHINGTON – Donald Trump, who had five draft deferments, never had to fight in the jungles of Vietnam.
But he had a different sort of war record, as he told radio host Howard Stern years ago: He slept with many women without getting STDs. “It is my personal Vietnam,” he said. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.” What’s more, Trump added: “This is better than Vietnam. It’s more fun.”
Said Stern: “Every vagina is a land mine. Haven’t we both said that in private?”
Trump concurred: “I think it is a potential land mine. There’s some real danger there.”
I recalled this Trump war story after his latest disparagement of the U.S. military Wednesday night. Asked to elaborate on his previous boast that “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” Trump said at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum that, under the Obama administration, “the generals have been reduced to rubble. They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing for our country.”
Trump later implied that he would fire current generals – who, in the American tradition, are avowedly nonpartisan – and replace them with retired generals who have supported him politically. His advisers on defeating Islamic State will “probably be different generals” from the current ones. My former Washington Post colleague Tom Ricks, author of “The Generals” and four other books on the military, tells me this would be “banana Republicanism.”
It’s difficult to think of a major political figure who has belittled the U.S. military as Trump has. Sunday is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which ushered in a “support our troops” spirit that has endured regardless of party or opinion of the wars that followed. But Trump goes beyond the standard criticism of the president and civilian leaders to condemn the military itself.
“Our military is a disaster,” he has said.
And: “The military is in shambles.”
Soon after launching his campaign, Trump said that John McCain, the prisoner-of-war-cum-senator, “is not a war hero” and that “I like people who weren’t captured.” He later backtracked but said he didn’t regret the remarks because “my poll numbers went up.”
He said that he “felt that I was in the military” because as a boy he went to a military-themed boarding school, where he got “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
He recently accepted a wounded-in-action veteran’s Purple Heart, saying: “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”
He said, before backtracking, that he would order the military to torture detainees and to target innocent family members of terrorists – even though it’s illegal: “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
He later engaged in a high-profile squabble with the Gold Star parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq because they criticized him at the Democratic convention.
Though Trump talks often about veterans, he didn’t make good on a promised contribution to veterans’ charities after a fundraiser earlier this year until the Post noted his failure to do so. (Years ago, he opposed veterans working as street vendors on New York’s Fifth Avenue, calling it “deplorable” to have them on the “prestigious shopping street.”)
Trump has called John Allen, the retired officer who led the fight against Islamic State and now backs Clinton, a “failed general.” And, though Trump said at Wednesday’s forum that the “body language” of the intelligence officials in his security briefings indicated they disagree with Obama administration policies, he previously said he didn’t trust U.S. intelligence officials.
Polling shows Trump leads among veterans and active-duty military members, though by less than Republicans typically do. Perhaps members of the military will change their views if a President Trump does, as he suggested, replace current generals with some of the dozens of retired military officials who signed a letter endorsing his candidacy last week.
These include retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, now an official at the Family Research Council, who believes Satan is working through Islam and who says gay rights are an “evil” that must be opposed by “God’s army.” Also on Trump’s list is retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a Fox News commentator who supported an Army officer who refused to deploy to Afghanistan, claiming President Obama was foreign-born and therefore an illegitimate commander in chief.
The officer, Lt. Col. Terry Lakin, was sentenced to military prison in a court-martial. But if Trump wins, perhaps the political supporters he appoints to replace the nation’s nonpartisan generals will reinstate and promote him.
Follow Dana Milbank @Milbank.