Without a doubt, all the reports are true. Without a doubt, President Trump called soldiers who volunteer for combat and get killed or captured “losers” and “suckers.” Trump’s comments, first reported by The Atlantic, have been confirmed by numerous outlets, including Fox News. The White House has issued vehement denials, denouncing reporters for relying on anonymous sources. The stories would certainly be stronger if those sources would identify themselves publicly.
But there are plenty of on-the-record quotes that verify and validate the basic thrust of all these reports, and they come directly from the president himself. Stories that say Trump disparaged the concept of service and sacrifice ring totally true, because they fit completely with his worldview: that there are “winners” who game the system and enrich themselves, and “losers” who fail to put self-interest first.
Take Trump’s obsession with the late John McCain, who was shot down over Vietnam, spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war, suffered permanent damage to his arms and shoulders, and ran for president against Barack Obama in 2008. In 2015, Trump told a conservative audience in Iowa, “He lost, so I never liked him as much after that, ‘cause I don’t like losers.” He then went on: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who served with McCain in the Senate and then became Obama’s defense secretary, told ABC News: “Let’s go back and look at Mr. Trump’s words himself, coming out of his own mouth ... what he said about John McCain and what he continued to say about McCain. How he degraded the service of Gens. (James) Mattis and (H.R.) McMaster and most recently Gen. (John) Kelly ... He’s on the record with saying things himself over the past few years,” said Hagel. And that makes the article, including the anonymous comments, “more and more credible.”
In fact, this president is so undisciplined that he keeps reinforcing Hagel’s point, adding fuel to the flames that are licking at his own campaign. The Pentagon’s top brass, he told a press conference, “want to do nothing but fight wars so all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Really? The generals want to send young soldiers to die in the name of corporate profit? This is a classic case of projection, because that’s what Trump would do if he was a general – or an arms maker.
Trump’s towering disdain for anyone who serves a goal other than personal promotion is pretty clear. We know what he is, who he is and how he views others. In their bestselling book, “A Very Stable Genius,” Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker document a briefing at the Pentagon where Trump’s advisers tried to educate him about the mission and mindset of the military. It ended in disaster with the president saying to a fleet of generals, “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
Since the Atlantic’s bombshell detonated, fresh reporting has only bolstered the story’s credibility. David Ignatius, a Post columnist with excellent military sources, wrote: “The quotes were anonymous, but it has been an open secret in Washington that many prominent retired four-stars have regarded Trump with growing horror as he assaulted the traditions of discipline and professionalism that are bedrocks of military life.”
Jennifer Griffin, who covers the Pentagon for Fox, weighed in with a series of tweets largely confirming the Atlantic’s theme. Here is just one of them: “According to one former senior Trump administration official: ‘When the president spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, ‘It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker.’” The president, who avoided service in Vietnam by fabricating a problem with “bone spurs” on his heels, responded by urging Fox to fire Griffin.
The Post added another detail: “In one account, the president told senior advisers that he didn’t understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got, according to a person familiar with the discussion.”
Sure, journalists and voters alike would be better off if unnamed sources came forward and spoke on the record. But the president himself has confirmed the story – many times, and in many ways.