Some news from today’s gaggle with reporters following the annual Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning that’s somehow surprising and unsurprising all at once.
Question: "Are you afraid to go to a war zone?"
Trump En Route to Mar a Lago: "No, I'm going to a war zone." pic.twitter.com/yOYZRMQoH2
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) November 20, 2018
He’s taken heat from the press for not yet having traveled to a war zone to meet with American troops, a task accomplished by Obama within the first three months of his first term. That’s what makes it unsurprising — he’s going to finally do it, or so he says, and silence his critics. But since when does he care what his critics think? That’s what makes it surprising. Trump worries about his base, first, foremost, and often exclusively, and his base seems not to care when he knocks William McRaven or goofs on McCain for being taken prisoner or skips the Veterans Day visit to Arlington or declines to do any goodwill tours with troops stationed abroad. He’s said it himself a million times, “no one loves the military as much as I do.” Why should he have to actually demonstrate it?
You’ve seen his tweets about football players kneeling during the anthem. QED.
Maybe the bad press is now so bad that he’s worried it’ll eat into his support among the military, if not MAGA Nation.
Trump has so far declined to visit those combat regions, saying he does not want to associate himself with wars he views as failures, according to current and former advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Current advisers said Trump is not expected to visit a war zone during the Thanksgiving break, which he will spend at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida…
Trump has spoken privately about his fears over risks to his own life, according to a former senior White House official, who has discussed the issue with the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Trump’s concerns.
“He’s never been interested in going,” the official said of Trump visiting troops in a combat zone, citing conversations with the president. “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”
It may be more than fear. Trump doesn’t show much emotion publicly but Bob Woodward’s book noted “how much time and emotional energy” he spent comforting the families of soldiers who’ve been killed in action since he became president, and that he was “hit hard” in particular by the deaths of men who had small children back home. He was also allegedly rattled when he traveled to Dover AFB to greet the remains of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in Yemen shortly after Trump became president. Owens’s father reportedly refused to meet with Trump. He’s going to get variations of those same experiences in meeting troops abroad, hearing about fallen comrades and maybe feeling “coldness” (albeit polite coldness) from some of the troops who dislike him. That’s not an excuse for not going, just a suggestion that his misgivings may be deeper than mere self-preservation.
Whatever the reason, David French, a veteran and a Trump critic, notes how Trump’s approval has fallen over time among servicemen from 46/37 in 2016 to basically even at 43 percent this fall. Which seems strange: The economy’s roaring, Trump has boosted military spending, he hasn’t ordered any wild misadventures abroad. He should be popular among the troops. Why isn’t he?
He has repeatedly committed a cardinal sin of leadership. He’s demonstrated that his support for soldiers — and on occasion, even bereaved families — is conditional. He doesn’t necessarily “love the troops.” He loves the troops who love him. He turns on the troops who turn on him. Cross him, and all bets are off…
Good officers understand the concept of selfless service. They understand that the mission comes first, and that they will share the burdens and sacrifices of the men they command. Their commander in chief broadcasts a different message, that Trump comes first. And if that is in fact his ethos, then he’ll alienate the men and women he commands, no matter the size of the defense budget.
There are times when insults are more than just words. There are times when style and symbols matter as much as substance — in part because they communicate character and intention. Soldiers are looking at the character of their commander, and an increasing number simply don’t like what they see.
The best thing you can say about that is that it’s consistent. With the troops, as with everyone else, he can’t respect someone who doesn’t respect him no matter how worthy of respect that person may be. That’s the lesson of the McRaven dust-up. Taking out Osama Bin Laden is no defense when you stand accused of thinking Trump’s demagoguery of the press is corrosive.
Here he is being pressed about the thousands of troops deployed to the southern border, a mission that’s been attacked relentlessly in the media as a political stunt aimed at hyping immigration as an election issue before the midterms. How about bringing those soldiers home for Thanksgiving, reporters ask him. Eh, he says. They’re tough. They’ll be fine.