Biden puts Trump on the defensive over his anti-military rhetoric

It was in early September 2020, as early voting was poised to begin in several states, when The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a staggering report on Donald Trump, his denigration of those who serve in the military and his condemnation of fallen American heroes as “suckers” and “losers.”

In fact, according to the report, when the then-president canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, his decision was motivated in part by his indifference to honoring Americans who died in combat. Trump reportedly said at the time, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”

In a separate conversation on the same trip, according to The Atlantic’s account, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 Marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Years later, President Joe Biden talks about this — a lot.

In fact, not only has the Democratic incumbent included the story in several of his recent speeches, and not only did Biden make a point to visit the American military cemetery in France that his predecessor didn’t bother to see, but the president’s re-election campaign unveiled a minute-long ad on the subject over the weekend.

If Biden and his team hoped to get the presumptive GOP nominee’s attention, they succeeded.

Over the weekend, Trump wrote to his social media platform, “Obviously, I never said that dead Soldiers are ‘losers and suckers.’ Who would say such a thing?” The former president added that the quote is “FAKE,” and it originates from “FASCIST SCUM.”

Soon after, at a rally in Nevada, Trump continued to deny having said what he was quoted as saying. In fact, he added that only “a psycho or a crazy person“ would make such a comment.

Perhaps, but after the original Atlantic piece was first published, much of the reporting in the article was corroborated by related reporting from the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times and even Fox News.

But it was last fall when the story took an important turn when retired Gen. John Kelly, who was Trump’s longest-serving White House chief of staff, confirmed the story with on-the-record comments to CNN.

“What can I add that has not already been said?” Kelly said in October 2023. Referring to his former boss, Kelly added, “A person that thinks those who defend their country in uniform, or are shot down or seriously wounded in combat, or spend years being tortured as POWs are all ‘suckers’ because ‘there is nothing in it for them.’ A person that did not want to be seen in the presence of military amputees because ‘it doesn’t look good for me.’ A person who demonstrated open contempt for a Gold Star family — for all Gold Star families — on TV during the 2016 campaign, and rants that our most precious heroes who gave their lives in America’s defense are ‘losers’ and wouldn’t visit their graves in France.

“A person who is not truthful regarding his position on the protection of unborn life, on women, on minorities, on evangelical Christians, on Jews, on working men and women,” Kelly continued. “A person that has no idea what America stands for and has no idea what America is all about. A person who cavalierly suggests that a selfless warrior who has served his country for 40 years in peacetime and war should lose his life for treason — in expectation that someone will take action. A person who admires autocrats and murderous dictators. A person that has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.

“There is nothing more that can be said,” Kelly concluded. “God help us.”

What’s more, there are quite a few related controversies surrounding Trump’s willingness to denigrate those who serve, and have served, in the U.S. armed forces.

The former president can certainly keep talking about this — in fact, I suspect it would delight Team Biden if he chose to do exactly that — but his denials are difficult to take seriously.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.