For POTUS, A VFW Convention Is No Different From A Political Rally

Analysis
Video screenshot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — President Donald Trump praised the country’s veterans and active military in a speech Tuesday to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, but spent much of his 54 minutes on stage as if it were one of his political rallies — promoting himself and other Republicans and attacking Democrats and the media.


Though the convention center was half-empty, Trump clearly relished the applause from a friendly crowd estimated at about 4,000 veterans and spouses. And though it was ostensibly a nonpolitical event, right from the start he began hitting many of the applause lines familiar from his campaign speeches.

Within minutes the president brought up to the stage the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri, calling him “hopefully your new senator-to-be.” He urged the audience to elect other Republican “reinforcements” to Congress, slammed Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader from San Francisco, and Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, and charged that Democrats generally support crime and open borders.

Trump has turned other nonpolitical appearances into partisan ones, but few so overtly as the speech before the VFW convention — a stop that presidents often make, with their focus on veterans’ service. Taxpayers pay for presidents’ travel to official events; a president’s party is supposed to cover costs for political ones.

With the audience cheering his strongest broadsides, the president sharpened his political message not only for the November midterm elections but for his own re-election in 2020. He attacked Democrats who want to abolish the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency for carrying out his “zero tolerance” policy, which separated nearly 3,000 migrant children from their parents at the Southern border before Trump was pressured to stop it.

“Democratic politicians want to abolish ICE,” Trump said. “They want to see open borders” and have launched “vicious smears on the men and women who protect our communities,” he added.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun running against that in 2020,” he said.

Trump called his political opponents the “disciples of a really low-IQ person, Maxine Waters — and perhaps even worse, Nancy Pelosi.”

Introducing the Republican Senate candidate, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, Trump said, “We need Josh badly.” Hawley returned the praise and then some as Trump stood behind him smiling and nodding.

After briefly thanking the veterans for their military service, Hawley continued, “But how about the leadership of President Donald Trump?”

“You know, when I think about President Trump, there’s one word that comes to mind. That word is ‘courage,’” Hawley said. He listed several Trump actions as evidence, ending with the claim that the president has “the guts to put conservatives on the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Trump reminded the crowd that Hawley’s opponent, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, voted against the tax cuts that he and congressional Republicans enacted late last year. He credited the tax cuts for recent economic growth, and noted that unemployment among veterans has fallen “to the lowest level in almost 18 years.”

“We’re now in the midst of a great economic revival,” Trump said.

“We don’t apologize for America anymore. We stand up for America. We stand up for the patriots who defend America,” he said as the crowd came to its feet. “And we stand up for our national anthem.”

The glancing reference to his ongoing culture war with the mostly African-American NFL players who kneel before games, in protest of racial injustice, drew a loud ovation. That reaction was matched only by the one to his attack several minutes later against the “fake news” media.

But the president, appearing in a farm state, was more defensive about his recent trade tariffs, which have sparked retaliatory tariffs and threats of more from American trading partners, reducing the prices that farmers across the Midwest get for their products.

While Trump didn’t mention it, his administration in Washington had just announced that it would provide $12 billion in relief for farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other nations. The president did reiterate his complaints against the trade deficits the United States runs with many of those trading partners, using inaccurate figures and depicting the deficits as lost money when they represent U.S. purchases of other nations’ goods.

“Last year, our country lost $817 billion, with a ‘b,’ dollars on trade,” Trump said. “These countries have been ripping us off for decades.”

The president specifically mentioned China as well as the European Union, whose representatives are scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss trade issues.

Holding fast to the economic populism that helped him get elected, the president asked for patience from nervous farmers and manufacturers and promised things would work out.

“You’ve got to stick it out, you’ve got to fight it,” he said.

“The farmers will be the biggest beneficiary,” he added. “Just be a little patient.”

“Just stick with us,” Trump said at another point, “and remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what is happening.”

The speech came a day after Trump threatened Iran, stoking new fears of a military confrontation in the Middle East, and the White House announced he might strip some former intelligence officials of their security clearances because they have been critical of him in media interviews.

He didn’t mention the security clearances and spoke in brief, broad terms about Iran. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

Trump reiterated his promises to strengthen the military, mentioning new expenditures on fighter jets and Navy ships and a pay increase for active-duty service members. He also spoke of improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs that he said have resulted in faster claims processing, better health care, same-day mental health services and greater accountability.

Trump claimed that his administration had accomplished “some of the largest VA reforms in the history of the VA … probably the largest.” Accompanying him was Robert L. Wilkie Jr., who was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to be the new VA secretary.

Referring to Wilkie’s confirmation, on an 86-9 vote, Trump said that only the “super-lefts that are running against me in 2 1/2 years” voted no.

———

©2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

WATCH NEXT:

Photo: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

A former sailor who was busted buying firearms with his military discount and then reselling some of them to criminals is proving to be a wealth of information for federal investigators.

Julio Pino used his iPhone to record most, if not all, of his sales, court documents said. He even went so far as to review the buyers' driver's license on camera.

It is unclear how many of Pino's customer's now face criminal charges of their own. Federal indictments generally don't provide that level of detail and Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson declined to comment.

Read More Show Less
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

It all began with a medical check.

Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.

It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.

Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army Cpt. Katrina Hopkins and Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers, assigned to Task Force Warhorse, pilot a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) operation at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Javion Siders)

U.S. forces must now ask the Iraqi military for permission to fly in Iraqi airspace before coming to the aid of U.S. troops under fire, a top military spokesman said.

However, the mandatory approval process is not expected to slow down the time it takes the U.S. military to launch close air support and casualty evacuation missions for troops in the middle of a fight, said Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

Read More Show Less
Army Spc. Clayton James Horne

Army Spc. Clayton James Horne died in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 17, making him the eighth non-combat fatality for Operation Inherent Resolve so far this year, defense officials have announced.

Horne, 23, was assigned to the 351st Military Police Company, 160th Military Police Battalion, an Army Reserve unit based in Ocala, Florida, a Pentagon news release says.

Read More Show Less
Joshua Yabut/Twitter

The soldier who was arrested for taking an armored personnel carrier on a slow-speed police chase through Virginia has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on two charges, according to The Richmond-Times Dispatch.

Joshua Phillip Yabut, 30, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle — in this case, a 12-ton APC taken from Fort Pickett in June 2018 — and violating the terms of his bond, which stemmed from a trip to Iraq he took in March 2019 (which was not a military deployment).

Read More Show Less