Donald Trump has declared war on Muslims, Mexicans and Sen. John McCain — and it has made him a success with members of the military and their families.
Even with high-ranking military officials and Republicans sounding the alarm that Trump would be unfit to be commander in chief, a Daily News analysis found many members of the military and their families who live in and near military bases have enthusiastically supported the real-estate mogul.
The News combined U.S. Census data with local voting maps to identify precincts where more than half of the adults are estimated to be on active duty. The precincts analyzed cover 13 military bases in nine states that have held primaries — from Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, to the Camp Lejune Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville, N.C.
Mirroring his standing nationally, Trump was the clear front-runner, winning 38% of the 3,236 votes cast so far in the Republican primaries.
Trump won at seven bases — with his biggest lead in Chattahoochee County, Ga., where everyone votes in a single precinct and half of the adults are enlisted at Fort Benning — and he tied with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at an eighth base, Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.
Cruz won the precincts covering the other five bases.
“I love Trump right now,” a Navy sailor serving at Camp Pendleton in California told The News. “He’s just brutally honest, and I like brutally honest.”
The sailor declined to give his name, citing rules against public endorsements that prohibit service members from even displaying signs endorsing a specific candidate on their lawns.
The sailor also backed Trump’s pledge to bring back torture.
“Personally, I don’t care. You can see what they’ve done to our guys. We can just do it back,” the Maryland native said.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton crushed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries among military families, winning at 11 of the bases analyzed by The News. When combining all 5,900 votes tallied for both parties, Clinton also won — taking precincts covering seven bases. Her biggest victory was at the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, where she won 65% of the 349 total votes.
A Clinton spokesman attributed her success to her long history “supporting those who serve, and taking care of our veterans and their families,” adding that her father Hugh Rodham was a World War II petty officer.
But a recent Military Times poll of 931 subscribers found Trump was the favorite in the general election — scoring 27%, compared to 22% for Bernie Sanders and 17% for Ted Cruz. Clinton received a paltry 11%.
Trump was asked earlier this month if he had yet assembled a group of foreign policy advisors to help shape his scary national security pronouncements — which have included killing the wives and children of terrorists, bringing back torture techniques “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding, a massive ground war of some 30,000 troops to defeat ISIS, and seizing the oil from various Middle Eastern countries.
Donald Trump holds a replica flintlock rifle awarded him by cadets during the Republican Society Patriot Dinner at the Citadel Military College in February.
The real estate mogul and reality television star responded that his primary consultant is himself.
“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he said on MSNBC, adding, “I have, you know, a good instinct for this stuff.”
Trump caused uproar in the defense community when he said during a December interview on Fox News Channel that his soldiers would “take out” the family members of terrorists, which is considered a war crime under international law.
“If he did, it would be my position that you can’t comply,” retired Rear Adm. John Hutson told The News. “You put your stars on the table and say, ‘Sir, I’m going to resign.’”
“He’s a tough talker, and it’’ easy to say yeah, go with the tough guy, but this isn’t the Wide World of Wrestling,” added Huston, who was the Navy’s top lawyer until 2000. “He’s playing to an audience right now, but what happens when you say, ‘Okay pal, you got it, here are the nuclear codes.’”
Marine Cpl. Cameron Thompson, 22, eating lunch at a diner outside Camp Pendleton in San Diego, told The News, “If he told me to start popping kids and women, I wouldn’t do it.”
One location that Trump didn’t win was Fort Bragg. The precinct serving that base went for Cruz on the Republican side and Sanders on the Democratic side.
As commander-in-chief, Trump would gain vast military powers that prior leaders have tested to varying degrees.
President George W. Bush claimed his presidential power gave him the right to violate treaties, waterboard enemy combatants, conduct warrantless wiretapping and set up secret interrogation sites.
President Obama has used the same Authorization for Use of Military Force enacted after 9/11 — which gave the executive branch authority to pursue terrorists — to order drone strikes against suspected members of Islamic extremist groups in countries far from the Afghan battlefield.
Trump, a graduate of the New York Military Academy who sidestepped the Vietnam War with a medical deferment for bone spurs on his heels, drew widespread condemnation when he said Sen. John McCain was no war hero and he preferred “people that weren’t captured, O.K.?”
When the comments threatened to torpedo his campaign, Trump feverishly courted veterans with fundraising efforts. He later doubled down on comments he’d bring back waterboarding and closed a South Carolina rally with a story about executing Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig’s blood.
A 21-year-old soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, said he voted for Trump in the North Carolina primaries on Tuesday because he’s drawn to the mercurial mogul’s style.
Hillary Clinton crushed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries among military families.
“He’s not scared to say what he thinks is right,” the Army specialist said, standing outside his polling location at an elementary school across the street from Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest military base. “He’s not worried about pleasing everybody. In my profession — infantry — we’re harda–, alpha males, get to it, get it done. That’s what he is.”
Of the 366 votes cast at that polling location, which serves a precinct that covers Fort Bragg, Cruz won on the Republican side with 72 votes, and Sanders won on the Democratic side with 91 votes.
A staff sergeant at Fort Bragg, who has been doing intelligence work for the Army for nearly two decades, said he voted for Cruz because he’s concerned by Trump’s statements.
“If it’s an unlawful order, I would not do it,” said the sergeant, who asked to remain anonymous. “If I face a court martial, I face a court martial. It’s just something I won’t do.”
Younger soldiers told The News they doubted it would ever come to that. But the scenario is not so far-fetched.
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration claimed Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters weren’t protected by the Geneva Conventions. The Bush White House argued waterboarding wasn’t torture if the goal was intelligence gathering, not the infliction of severe pain for vengeance.
Though he attended the New York Military Academy, Trump (front) never served in the armed forces, sidestepping the Vietnam War with a medical deferment.
America ended up with the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib.
Hutson expressed confidence that veteran commanders would stop any pursuit of war crimes.
“We’ve got strong leadership who would say in the situation room to that rogue commander-in-chief, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to do that, go pound sand,’” he said. “I’m getting a chill saying this, but I believe the joint chiefs would swallow hard and then have no problem telling him, ‘We’re not going to waterboard.’”
The refusal could lead to a showdown in the courts and Congress, he said, or maybe a rash of resignations.
Earlier this month, dozens of conservative national security experts signed a letter blasting Trump’s readiness for the Oval Office, calling him “fundamentally dishonest” and declaring him “utterly unfitted to the office.”
More than 70 prominent figures — including former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff — put their names on the missive.
The billionaire’s comments about waterboarding and killing the family of suspected terrorists — a war crime — caused servicemembers to say those are orders they would disobey.
“Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as President, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world,” the group wrote. “His expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States.”
Bob Watada watched his son Lt. Ehren Watada get court-martialed when he refused to deploy to Iraq in 2006 on the grounds the war was illegal and immoral.
“I never imagined we would have to go through that,” the dad told The News.
In 2009, the Army discharged Watada “Under Other-Than-Honorable-Conditions.”
Watada said if Trump is elected and tries to justify torture again, others could find themselves replaying his son’s saga.
“Do I worry about it? Yes. It could happen again. But I hope there’s a reality check. Hopefully he doesn’t get elected,” he said.