Last night, Steve Bannon went to Fairhope, Alabama to stump for Roy Moore in the special US Senate election a week away and attacked an unlikely foe. In addition to taking swipes at Moore’s actual opponent Doug Jones, he launched a direct verbal attack on Mitt Romney’s lack of military service in the 1960s. He put Moore’s Vietnam service as an MP officer on a pedestal to segué into the Romney criticism. Beyond saying Romney used his religious deferments to avoid Vietnam, he attacked the Romney family for having five sons and zero Desert Storm/OIF/OEF veterans among them:
You had five sons, not one day of service in Afghanistan and Iraq… Where were the Romneys during those wars? You want to talk about honor and integrity, brother, bring it. Bring it down here to Alabama. (Video can be seen here)
You may recall that previous military service was far from a central issue in the 2012 presidential election when Romney was the Republican nominee. As I detail more fully in the book, Romney did get into a little political trouble for seeming to equate his son’s efforts to help him on the campaign trail with military service.
For the record, Wikipedia describes Bannon’s naval service during the late seventies and early eighties as his political awakening. Also for the record, the man he helped elect as president used educational and medical deferments (potentially dubious ones) to avoid military service during the same period Mitt Romney faced the draft.
Time magazine featured a story on Rye Barcott‘s organization WithHonor that hopes to facilitate more veterans into elected positions in the future. Their explicit assumption is that more veterans in public office would reduce polarization in Washington DC and elsewhere. One method toward that end is a pledge that veteran candidates would sign on to, that among other things, would make candidates promise to “…join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on at least one piece of major legislation each year, and co-sponsor additional pieces.” There is no questioning the negative correlation between the declining veteran proportion in Congress and increased partisan rancor and polarization since the 1980s, but we all know there is more to the story than a decline in the numbers of congressmen and women with DD214s. That said, it can’t hurt, and I am encouraged by the disproportionately high number of OIF/OEF veterans entering politics.
Congressional incumbents with military service put their voices together to tell Trump to quiet his more bellicose language on North Korea. The mostly-Democratic “bipartisan joint statement” explicitly relies on the military biographies of the co-signers. Members such as Tulsi Gabbard, Tammy Duckworth, and especially Seth Moulton (who’s chartered a veteran PAC) are not new to using their unique wartime experiences to help get their voice above the noise. The Joint Chiefs of Staff statement that the only military solution to removing DPRK’s nukes was a land invasion opened the door for veterans’ statement. Here’s the money paragraph:
As Veterans, we have defended this nation in war and we remain committed to this country’s security. We also understand that entering into a protracted and massive ground war with North Korea would be disastrous for U.S. troops and our allies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears, agree. Their assessment underscores what we’ve known all along: There are no good military options for North Korea.
We’ve talked about the rising profile of Seth Moulton (MA-06) here before, and he is making military-veteran-candidate news again.
Moulton, according to the Lowell Sun News, rolled out a political action committee to help steer funds to Democratic challengers with military experience for next year’s midterms. We’re talking more than $600k so far. It’s called Serve America PAC.
The article points to a handful of races that the PAC plans to target. MN-01 caught my eye first because that was Tim Walz’s district–a rural, mostly white prairie district that Romney almost won and Trump easily did (Clinton only grabbed 38%). KY-06 is another reach. Moulton backs Amy McGrath there (discussed previously), but it’s an uphill climb. Romney and Trump both carried it with 56%.
West Virginia’s 2nd of three congressional districts will be even more unfriendly territory. Moulton supports Aaron Scheinberg to unseat Alex Mooney. Yes, it is the most blue of WV’s three districts, but that’s a relative statement. Romney won WV-02 with 60% and Trump by 66%.
Lower hanging fruit for Democrats can be found in NC-09. Serve America PAC backs former marine Dan McGready there to take on Pittenger, who’s been in office since 2013. Cook has the district at R+8 and Trump had 54%.
The best shot among the districts mentioned in the article might be in New Jersey. Longtime incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen has not enjoyed good news cycles lately. NJ-11 is a purple district (Cook R+3 and Trump won by a whisker). The challenger is Mikie Sherrill, who has done some fundraising on her own.
We’ll keep our eyes on the PAC’s efforts–both as an interesting election phenomenon regarding the politics of military service and as a barometer of candidate viability.
Joseph Weber wrote a piece for Fox (online) that surveys the Democrats’ efforts to recruit military veteran candidates to take on Republican incumbents in the midterms next year. It addresses some of the important issues around political aspirants’ military service experiences, namely the power of issue ownership and a sensitivity to the fact that Democrats do not enjoy an equal chance of unseating GOP congressmen nationwide.
Steve Mistler wrote a story on the politics of veterans running for Congress this cycle, with an emphasis on the ME-02 race; check it out.
The politics of military service found two colorful streams in the past few days. While he got his fair share of criticism over the timing of it (given the imminent landfall of Hurricane Harvey), Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio as the Friday news cycle wound down. Arpaio of course was convicted last month on charges related to defying a court order by continuing racial profiling. Trump hinted that he would pardon Arpaio at a campaign style rally (2020 ostensibly) days prior, and pulled the trigger Friday.
Now, this blog does not really care about the president exercising one of his actually-clearly-spelled-out-powers in the constitution itself—what caught my eye was the justification offered: Arpaio was a Korean War-era army veteran. Trump aide Tom Bossert (and others) said,
“I think there’s a clemency argument that can be made for the long history of service…in the United States military…”
He joined a medical unit and spent time in France during the Korean War according to Wikipedia. A few years back when he created a veteran-segregated jail wing to help veterans, he said, “I served in the military in the Korean War,” so maybe Wikipedia has it wrong, whatever, I’m not sailing this ship down the Stolon Valor seas (unless exaggerated claims are forthcoming).
So why rely on his army service from more than 50 years ago to justify the pardon? In my mind, it’s the easiest part of the entire story to understand. Veterans enjoy a sort of first-class citizenship position in American civic space, so reminding the audience that Arpaio wore a U.S. Army uniform as a young man distracts from his controversies as sheriff.
The Trump administration caused a stir in military policy in the exact same news cycle with a detail-light ban on transgender recruitment. We’ll hear more on this after Harvey settles down, but apparently, one Trump cabinet member’s daughter does not approve of the commander in chief’s transgender move. Jennifer Detlefsen, daughter of the Interior Secretary, served in the navy and avoided nuance in her response:
“This veteran says sit down and shut the f–k up, you know-nothing, never-served piece of s–t.”
(photo from Gage Skidmore)
Republican Steven Palazzo (MS-04) is receiving criticism from a GOP challenger regarding his service record, or a perceived deficiency in it. Mississippi TV media is giving attention to Brian Rose, who seeks to unseat Palazzo in the 2018 GOP primary. Rose is offering documents he claims show that Palazzo “sought special favors to be assigned duty at Camp Shelby, rather than be sent to Iraq with the 155th battalion in 2004.” This is a solidly GOP district, so this intraparty combat is where the action is. It’s important to note that Rose is a combat veteran himself, which makes it easier for this line of attack.
Amy McGrath announced this week that she’s seeking the Democratic nomination to unseat Mitch McConnell ally Andy Barr. Her intro video is compelling. It starts with her early life attempts 20 years ago to join the armed forces in a combat unit and how she dealt with being stymied by policy at the time.
She’s not the only one hoping to be on the Democratic line next year, though. If she does prevail in the Dem primaries, she’ll need to make up ground where previous Democrats have failed. Barr won with 61% last year and the Cook rating has the district around R+9.
Fun fact! Within KY-06 is the Blue Grass Army Depot, where I was stationed for awhile in the USAF (unlikely spot for an airman, but there you go. Long story).