Amid the changing demographics and social attitudes of Americans, one constant - at least post-Vietnam - is respect and appreciation for those who have served their country in the armed services. (The consensus is strong enough that Hillary Clinton makes a "two pinnochios" claim that the anti-war law school graduate who had just moved to Arkansas with Bill Clinton made an effort to join the Marines in 1975.) Fortunately, those who have served are solidly offended by the Obama and Clinton policies and attitudes, and their influence in the 2016 elections will increase as national security rises as a campaign theme.
Even before the Paris attacks, polling of active duty and retired military by Rasmussen Reports showed Hillary at a stark 15% favorable and 81 % unfavorable (3% very favorable; 69% very unfavorable). That is even worse than a Military Times survey in January which showed President Obama at 15% favorable and 55% unfavorable among active duty military. They are tied together, and Hillary's campaign shows no promise of departing from the policies and attitudes of Barack Obama in the realm which matters to veterans.
With a national total of about 230 million eligible voters, the all volunteer 1,350,000 active duty military (less than half of what it was during the Vietnam War) is small in absolute numbers, but it is dwarfed by the 22 million veterans who share their political leanings. Several of the swing states have a military and veteran presence above the 10% national average- particularly Colorado (11%); Florida (11%); and Virginia (13%). This is an engaged group - in 2014 the veterans voted at a 54% rate compared to the national average of 42% - and they have families and friends.
There are several types of issues which cause a strong anti-Hillary response among the active duty and former military voters:
1. Neither Obama nor Clinton understands and respects basic military culture and ethics. A representative Obama sin - the trade of five al Queda leaders in Guantanamo for Army deserter Bowe Berghdahl. A representative Clinton sin - the abandonment of the ambassador and the CIA operatives in Benghazi, and lying to their relatives about the video. The list is long - the overly restrictive Rules of Engagement which imperil soldiers in Afghanistan; the casual response to the Veterans Administration scandal; the focus on political correctness with gays, transgenders, and women in combat; the dismissal of non-compliant senior leaders.
2. The Obama / Clinton policies in the Middle East have abandoned a generation of hard-won accomplishments in favor of domestic political gain - the decision to remove all US troops from Iraq with the resultant rise of ISIS to fill the vacuum; the commitment of troops to an offensive in Afghanistan with a publicized date for withdrawal; the false ultimatums in Syria; the temporary abandonment of Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood.
3. The administration's indifference to maintaining military strength as evidenced in the 2011 sequester in which the president and the Secretaries of State and Defense were concerned about domestic spending, but were willing to accept military budgets which reduced the number of ships, aircraft, and ground forces - and significantly cut benefits for military families and veterans who worked for the government.
Most of the prominent veterans organizations try to stay out of partisan politics, and the national crop of leading politicians is nearly void of veterans (only Lindsey Graham remains among the presidential field), but in the age where big money is looking for tactical advantages, there are inevitably operatives who put together organizations which support veteran candidates and issues. On the Left there is VoteVets, funded largely by billionaire Tom Steyer which has targeted House and Senate races where he can elevate candidates who will pursue an environmentalist agenda; on the Right there is Concerned Veterans, funded largely by the Koch Brothers which advocates for a more muscular foreign policy and a private sector option for veterans healthcare.
As the 2016 campaign progresses, look for a lot of candidate forums at the VFW hall, and look for a Republican-friendly audience.
bill bowen - 11/27/15