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Poll: Troops want to give Trump the boot as commander in chief

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a campaign

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a campaign event Monday in Pittsburgh, Pa. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Standing at unease

Donald Trump came into office with solid support from members of the military. "Nobody's done more for the military than me," the president boasts. But a new poll from Military Times finds active-duty armed forces souring on Trump, with a slight preference for Joe Biden. It turns out that those who defend the nation against foreign threats recoil at being part of Trump's saber-rattling against domestic unrest and don't share his shrugging off Russia as an adversary.

About 50% had an unfavorable view of Trump, while 38% had a favorable view, in the poll taken in late July and early August. Four years ago, 46% viewed Trump favorably and 37% unfavorably. Looking ahead to the election, 41% said they would vote for Biden, 37% would choose Trump and nearly 13% would go with a third-party candidate. In 2016, Trump had nearly double the support of Hillary Clinton. 

How is Trump losing voters from a constituency that usually leans Republican? “It’s fair to say that Trump is not as popular as Republican nominees have been in the past among this group,” Military Times was told by Peter Feaver, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush who now works as a political science professor at Duke University. 

Significantly, as Trump warns about invoking the Insurrection Act in places like Portland, Oregon, almost 74% disagreed with his suggestion that active-duty military personnel should be used to respond to civil unrest in American cities. That indicates rank-and-file attitudes are in sync with Pentagon brass who resisted Trump's push three months ago to deploy troops when the George Floyd protests erupted, forcing his brief trip to a White House bunker. Only about 22% like the idea.

Just 21% of troops saw immigration as a significant national security issue, but 48% identified white nationalists as a concern — a departure from Trump's priorities. Only about 17% said Trump's White House responded properly to U.S. intelligence reports that Russian officials offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan. Nearly 47% disagreed with his statements dismissing that intel. While 87% of troops believe, like Trump says, that China is a security threat, 81% also feel the same about Russia.

More officers — 59% — than enlisted personnel — 47% — have an unfavorable view of Trump. Feaver said that could be a backlash from those who planned long-term military careers against Trump's "deep state" attacks on career federal positions.

Alexander Vindman — whose career was derailed by Trump after the now-retired Army lieutenant colonel testified in impeachment hearings — tweeted about the poll: "The people of the Armed Forces of the US know the truth: Trump has not rebuilt the military nor has not he made the US safer. No other president has done more to undermine US security. Military members cannot speak out but listen to what they are telling you here."

Biden: Trump makes us less safe

Biden on Monday ridiculed Trump's efforts to tie his candidacy to violence that has spun off from protests and blamed the president for “poisoning” the nation’s values.

"Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” Biden said in a speech from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Really? I want a safe America … safe from four more years of Donald Trump.”

Forcefully condemning those who commit violence, the Democrat said, "I want to be very clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It's lawlessness, plain and simple ... it's wrong in every way."

He broadened his attack to include Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his "subservient role" to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "It's not only dangerous, it's humiliating and embarrassing for the rest of the world to see. It weakens us," Biden said.

Biden said Trump looks at instances of violence as his "political lifeline" because "the simple truth is, Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he's trying to scare America." Click here for video of Biden's speech. Read a transcript here.

Trump for the defense

Trump finds no fault so far with his 17-year-old supporter Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with murder in the fatal shooting of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Nor does he see anything wrong with people in a pro-Trump caravan of vehicles who fired paintball guns at crowds jeering them in Portland, Oregon.

Trump was asked Monday at a news conference if he would “condemn what some of your supporters did.” Of Rittenhouse, the Illinois youth who went to Kenosha to link up with militia groups, Trump said, "He was trying to get away from them, it looks like it. He fell and then they very violently attacked him … I guess he was in very big trouble, he probably would have been killed." Prosecutors said the two slain protesters were trying to disarm the teen.

And the paintball shooters? "That was a peaceful protest, and paint is a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets." Then he told CNN's Kaitlan Collins: "Your supporters … shot a young gentleman and killed him." As of Monday, there were no arrests in the Saturday night killing of a man from the far-right group Patriot Prayer.

Trump used most of his news conference to keep trying to link Biden to leftist violence, asking for example why the Democrat didn't specifically name "antifa" in his Pittsburgh speech denouncing violence. While much of Trump's attack sounded recycled from his convention speech, he tried out a new line, accusing Biden of adopting "Mafia talking points" on giving "the mob" what it wants.

It was a curious tack to take, given Trump's dealings with organized crime figures as a developer in New York.

Start spreading the herd?

The U.S. count on coronavirus cases has now hit 6 million. A medical adviser Trump recently brought in is making the argument: Why stop there?

Dr. Scott Atlas is urging the White House to embrace a “herd immunity” strategy to end the pandemic, The Washington Post reported. His idea is to let the coronavirus spread through most of the population to quickly build resistance to it, while taking steps to protect those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations.

Sweden took that approach; it now has one of the world's highest infection and death rates, and it hasn't escaped deep economic problems. But Sweden's model has support among some U.S. conservatives who argue that social distancing restrictions are crushing the economy and infringing on people’s liberties.

Critics say such a strategy could cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives on top of a death toll already above 183,000. Atlas is a neuroradiologist from Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution. He does not have a background in infectious diseases or epidemiology.

After the Post's story was published, Atlas denied advocating herd immunity and the White House said, “President Trump is fully focused on defeating the virus through therapeutics and ultimately a vaccine. There is no discussion about changing our strategy.”

Kenosha, here he comes

Trump was asked if he had any concerns, as voiced by Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, that his visit to Kenosha Tuesday could exacerbate tensions.

"Well, it could also increase enthusiasm," he replied.

Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the plan was for the president to meet with law enforcement and tour "some of the damage from the riots" in the city.

Trump said he won't be meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man whose shooting by police ignited protests and unrest, because "they wanted to have lawyers involved and I thought that was inappropriate."

Unreality show

Before this campaign is over, there may be enough grossly deceptive video put out by the Trump camp for a day or three of binge watching.

White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino posted a faked video Sunday night that showed the former vice president appearing to be sound asleep and snoring as an interview was set to begin. But the original video came from a California TV station's remote interview in 2011 with singer-activist Harry Belafonte. Biden’s face was digitally placed on Belafonte, and snoring was added to the soundtrack. Twitter flagged Scavino's tweet for containing “manipulated media."

Trump's campaign tweeted a clip from Biden's Pittsburgh speech Monday that made it seem like the Democratic nominee said, “You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America.” Twitter flagged that one too. Here's Biden's full quote: "Since they have no agenda or vision for a second term, Trump and Pence are running on this: ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ And what’s their proof? The violence you’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) posted a video that rearranged a Biden interview with health care activist Ady Barkan — who uses a computer voice simulator — to make it sound like he agreed to "defund" the police. Twitter flagged it.

Guilty plea still sticks to Flynn

In an 8-2 ruling, a federal appeals court in Washington turned down the attempt by the Justice Department to end its prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Reversing a decision by a three-judge appeals panel, the full appeals court said it will allow U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who was to have sentenced Flynn, to scrutinize why Attorney General William Barr intervened to try to erase Flynn's guilty plea for lying to the FBI.

A retired federal judge Sullivan named to look into the case challenged the motives behind the Justice Department’s dismissal request and called it a “gross abuse” of prosecutorial power.

Trump has decried the prosecution of Flynn by former special counsel Robert Mueller and signaled that he had the pardon pen ready if Barr can't make the case go away.

A win for Trump

A 2-1 federal appeals court decision dealt a severe blow to the House's power to investigate Trump and his administration, ruling that the House can’t ask a court to enforce subpoenas because there is no statute granting that authority.

The ruling essentially voided a subpoena issued last year to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about his dealings with Trump related to the Russia investigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the ruling would be appealed to the full appeals court.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond, written by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • More than three-fourths of Americans worry the COVID-19 vaccine approval process is being driven more by politics than science, according to a new survey from STAT, a health news website, and the Harris Poll. Trump's prediction of approving a vaccine soon are part of his campaign pitch to counter low confidence in his handling of the pandemic.
  • Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former aide and adviser to Melania Trump, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she's "working with investigators" probing potential financial crimes involving the 2017 inauguration committee. Wolkoff has been promoting a book about the first lady, including secretly recorded snippy comments on her rivalry with stepdaughter Ivanka Trump.
  • When Kellyanne Conway was an up-and-coming pollster and pundit in the 1990s, she took an awkward stab at stand-up comedy. Perhaps she's thinking of trying again as she leaves her White House job as senior counselor. She ended a tweet ripping on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) about "violence in Democrat cities" with a gag line: "Plus, I don't trust men who weigh less than me."
  • The Trump administration is open to including a statue of Trump in a National Garden of American Heroes he wants to create, The Associated Press reported. The president announced the garden idea during an Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore. Trump received "multiple nominations" from state and local officials whose views were solicited, said Interior Department spokesman Ben Goldey said.
  • A pro-Trump heckler standing on top of a truck got Biden's attention as the Democratic candidate walked into a Pittsburgh firehouse with boxes of pizza. Biden turned to the man and called out: "Don't jump! Don't jump!"
  • When Trump made an unannounced visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last November, officials called it "routine." But a new book by New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt says Vice President Mike Pence was put on "standby" in case Trump had to go under anesthesia. It remains unclear why.

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