In what was expected to be the first official policy speech of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, the GOP front-runner instead stuck to familiar notes about national security and foreign policy.
In an address aboard the USS Iowa in Los Angeles, Trump promised to "come out with some plans in a very short time," before reiterating his commitment to veterans, his opposition to President Obama's Iran nuclear deal, and his desire to build a wall, funded by Mexico, to reduce illegal immigration.
The event was a fundraiser hosted by Veterans for a Strong America, a group that endorsed Trump's candidacy prior to his remarks. Trump said he "didn't expect it" and "didn't ask for it," but accepted the nod enthusiastically. He called veterans "our greatest people," but added "they're treated terribly." Trump railed against wait times for veterans at federal facilities and said if he were president, veterans would get better care in private hospitals.
"Right now, and you know this, we have illegal immigrants that are treated far better than our veterans, and that's not going to happen anymore," Trump said.
While the business mogul has made veterans a centerpiece of his campaign, he has not always struck a delicate balance while discussing military matters. In fact, he was ridiculed recently for comparing his tenure in prep school to service in the armed forces in an upcoming biography. In “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” the real estate mogul reportedly says he “always felt” he had been in the military because he attended the New York Military Academy, which he said provided him with “more training militarily than a lot of guys that go into the military.”
According The New York Times, although Trump did have to wear a uniform and march in drills, he was not in danger of being drafted for the Vietnam War as a youth because he had a high draft lottery number.
Trump rankled many Vietnam veterans when he suggested in July that Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war during the conflict, may not be a war hero. “I like people that weren’t captured,” he said during a Q&A session at the Family Leadership Summit. After a widespread condemnation from veterans and even some of his Republican rivals, Trump refused to apologize for his remarks, claiming that McCain “has done nothing to help veterans except talk.”
On Tuesday, Trump was greeted by chanting protesters, but he appeared to bask in his position at the top of the polls. Sporting his trademark, bright red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap, Trump pronounced: "We’re going to make our military so big and so strong and so great and it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it."
However, he offered no specific details as to how he would accomplish that feat. Instead he lit into his Republican opponents (whom he described as "nice people" who will nevertheless offer "more of the same") and Democrats John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Trump said that while he has repeatedly described Clinton as the worst Secretary of State in history, Kerry may be worse because of his role in negotiating the Iran deal.
Trump also weighed in on rumors that Kerry may be considering another presidential run in the Democratic primary alongside Clinton.
"He has no chance, like she has not chance," Trump said, in what appeared to be unscripted remarks.
The GOPer then made an awkward pivot to his signature issue of immigration. He said that skeptics of his plan to build a wall along the Southwest border of the U.S. (to be paid for by Mexico) had simply never read his book "The Art of the Deal."
"You have now found out what illegal immigration is all about and I am so happy that I’m the one who brought it to the fore," said Trump, who also patted himself on the back from his standing in the race.
Meanwhile, Veterans for a Strong America has only $30 in the bank according to FEC filings from their Super PAC. Tickets for Trump's Tuesday speech cost up to $1,000 a piece.