What do American vets say about Donald Trump?

GOP Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has elicited many negative reactions after attacking Sen. John McCain's military credentials, but some veterans agree with his remarks.

Nati Harnik/AP
Republican presidential candidate, real estate mogul Donald Trump, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, July 18.

In the days since Donald Trump sparked a firestorm by denegrating Arizona Sen. John McCain’s military service, a raft of notable figures – including Republican presidential candidates, Democratic candidates, the Republican National Committee, and even celebrities – have condemned Mr. Trump's comments. Reactions from veterans, however, have been mixed.

“His attack on veterans make him unfit to be commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for president," former Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry said in a statement.

“Senator McCain is an American hero because he served his country and sacrificed more than most can imagine. Period,” the RNC’s chief strategist and communications director, Sean Spicer, said in a statement. “There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

They were, of course, responding to Trump's latest headline-making comments Saturday, in which the perennially controversial candidate said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

Many veterans scoffed at Trump's attack, noting that he did not serve in any wars.

“A man who received four student deferments to avoid service in the Vietnam War has absolutely no credibility to attack someone like John McCain who volunteered to serve his country and suffered five-and-a-half years of torture as a result,” Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth said in a statement on Saturday.

"My firm belief is, yes, [McCain] is a hero," Commander John Couzo, who was in Vietnam at the same time as McCain, told a local Virginia station. "If you spend that many years in jail, and you've been tortured, and you finally, after the war is over, get sent back home, you should be treated as a hero."

Still, Trump's comments seem to be touching a chord. While McCain is respected in Washington, he is not as popular with party conservatives thanks to his more moderate stance on some issues, like his support for comprehensive immigration overhaul.

Which may be why some in the party, like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, have not publicly criticized Trump’s comments.

But veterans were far from unanimous, expressing surprisingly mixed reactions to Trump's comments. Many on Twitter blasted Trump.

But a number of vets on Twitter commented to support Trump.

“I think he may owe an apology to the families of those who have sacrificed in conflict and those who have undergone the prison experience in serving their country,” Sen. McCain, who spent six years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam after his plane was shot down over Hanoi in 1967, said on NBC Monday morning.

Since making the comments, a response to McCain's claim that the billionaire businessman “fired up the crazies” with his incendiary remarks about Mexicans and undocumented immigrants, Trump has doubled down.

“John McCain talks a lot, but he doesn’t do anything,” Trump told reporters after the Saturday speech. “I don’t like the job that John McCain is doing in the Senate because he’s not taking care of our veterans ... Some of these people wait four or five days just to see a doctor. They sit in a reception room, which is dirty and filthy and disgusting.”

“Frankly illegal immigrants get treated better than many of our vets," Trump said in separate comments, echoing his populist immigrant platform theme. "It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country.”

In dueling statements over the weekend, Trump and McCain each strove to present himself as the representative of veterans.

“I am not a fan of John McCain because he has done so little for our veterans and he should know better than anyone else what the veterans need, especially in regards to the VA,” Trump said.

Since making waves for his comments, Trump has since backtracked on the statements, saying he simply meant McCain is not doing enough for military vets.

And while Trump's latest controversy has kept him in the headlines – and atop several national polls – political observers say his will be a short-lived surge.

As polling expert Nate Cohn at The Upshot blog wrote for The New York Times, “Donald Trump’s surge in the polls has followed the classic pattern of a media-driven surge. Now it will most likely follow the classic pattern of a party-backed decline." 

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