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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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Women in Military Focus of Ad That Highlights Gender Gap in Trump’s Base

In the wake of polls showing declining support for President Trump among soldiers and veterans, two anti-Trump groups have released an ad suggesting that Trump is unfit to command women in the military.

(CN) — In the wake of polls showing declining support for President Trump among soldiers and veterans, two anti-Trump groups have released an ad suggesting that Trump is unfit to command women in the military. 

The 93-second video traces the proud history of women in the armed forces and intersperses historical photographs with vulgar and sexist comments by Trump, including his infamous “grab them by the pussy” and “I moved on her like a bitch” statements.  

The ad, co-sponsored by the Lincoln Project and Veterans for Responsible Leadership, concludes that Trump “doesn’t deserve to lead our brave women in uniform.”  

“This is a very tough advertisement,” said Peter Feaver, an adviser to President George W. Bush who is now a political science professor at Duke University, in an interview. 

Professor Matthew Kerbel at Villanova University agreed. “The Lincoln Project is good at what they do and they know their audience and they know how to go for the jugular. This really is an effective ad,” he said. 

“We will see the largest gender gap in history next Tuesday,” Kerbel continued. “The Lincoln Project’s target demographic is voters who would normally be Republican but who are unhappy with Trump. If they can peel off a few more voters from Trump’s column, that could make the difference in the election.”  

The Lincoln Project is a group of anti-Trump Republicans whose founders include Washington Post columnist George Conway, the husband of former Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is a senior adviser. 

One week before Election Day, the ad comes after a poll of more than 1,000 active-duty personnel by the Military Times and Syracuse University showed Biden ahead of Trump with this group by 41% to 37%. 

Only 38% of troops had a favorable view of the president, while 42% “strongly disapproved” of his job performance. 

Trump’s military support has steadily eroded since his election in 2016 when he had a net favorability rating of 9 points. The poll also showed that enlisted personnel were more inclined to support Trump than their commanders. 

A still from an ad released Tuesday, Oct. 28, sponsored Lincoln Project and Veterans for Responsible Leadership. It shows a woman in uniform beside the infamous slogan President Donald Trump uttered on a hot mic for "Access Hollywood." (Image via Courthouse News)

There’s some evidence of heightened interest in military voting this year. Servicemembers had already downloaded nearly 650,000 voting applications by October 15, according to Federal Voting Assistance Program Director David Beirne, and traffic on the military’s voting information website was double that in 2016.

Only 46% of active-duty military personnel voted in 2016, compared to 59% in 2012. 

A separate poll of veterans showed Trump with a lead of 52% to 42%. But those results were skewed by heavy support for Trump among veterans age 55 and older. Younger veterans — a group likely to include far more women — had a marked preference for Biden in the poll. 

Trump’s numbers among veterans were down from 2016, when exit polls showed him trouncing Hillary Clinton by 60% to 34%. 

While soldiers and veterans can vote like anyone else, Feaver worries about injecting the military so directly into politics.  

The new ad “has the unfortunate effect of politicizing the military by deploying a portion of the military — in this case, entirely without their consent — as an attack against a presidential contender,” he said. 

“It may be an effective attack on Trump, but it is one with unintended secondary effects that are not good for the civil-military relations norm of keeping the military out of partisan politics." 

But Kerbel disagreed, saying that “it’s fair to point to the words and the character of the commander in chief.” 

Feaver also noted that, while the ad “may be fair in the sense of directly quoting Trump, in point of fact none of the quotes by Trump directly concern women in the military.”   

Women make up a disproportionate number of the members of Veterans for Responsible Leadership, and the ad was in part a response to their a “strong distaste” for Trump due to his comments about gold star families and John McCain not being a hero, the group’s director of operations, Mike Smith, said in an interview. 

But the group was also conscious of recent military polls regarding the election, Smith said. 

The veterans’ group was founded in 2017 in response to the Michael Flynn affair — the retired Army lieutenant general had served the Trump administration for less than a month that year when he resigned in disgrace and then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Today, Flynn and Trump’s Department of Justice are working to unravel that prosecution. Smith notes that his group is supported by small donations and more recently by contributions from political action committees.

Before teaming up with the Lincoln Project for its latest ad, Veterans for Responsible Leadership displayed this anti-Trump message in Washington, D.C.. (Image courtesy of Mike Smith via Courthouse News)
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