Veterans give Trump, Clinton sharply different response in Charlotte

Trump and Pence address thousands of veterans at the VFW Convention

Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, and his running mate, Mike Pence, spoke to veterans about the need for VA reform at the 117th Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte on July 26, 2016.
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Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, and his running mate, Mike Pence, spoke to veterans about the need for VA reform at the 117th Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte on July 26, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeatedly attacked his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, drawing cries of “Lock her up!” from the audience at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte.

The crowd’s reaction was a sharp contrast to Monday when Clinton faced the same group, receiving a polite but noticeably quieter reception. In a 25-minute speech, Trump also said he would root out government corruption, overturn the “rigged” system, improve VA health care and establish a 24-hour hotline in the White House for veterans to call and voice complaints about the service.

“This could keep me very busy at night, folks. This could take the place of Twitter,” Trump said of the hotline, which he said he would personally respond to if complaints weren’t addressed.

Trump’s visit to Charlotte followed his Monday evening campaign rally in Winston-Salem, and a July 5 event in Raleigh. Clinton visited Charlotte July 5 for a joint rally with President Barack Obama.

Both candidates’ repeated visits highlight the state’s electoral importance: North Carolina is a battleground that could go to Democrats or Republicans in November. Clinton and Trump are virtually tied in North Carolina, polls show.

Trump entered the Charlotte Convention Center hall to warm applause with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who spoke first after an introduction by Trump. Active-duty service members favor Trump, according to a recent Military Times poll. The survey found 49 percent backed Trump and only 21 percent supported Clinton.

“Our military is too small, and he will rebuild it,” Pence said about Trump. “Our VA is broken, and this builder (Trump) will fix it.”

Despite the mostly warm reception, some in the crowd said they can’t support Trump, in particular because of comments he made last year that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., isn’t a war hero because he was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“I’m not sure what he could ever say that could make me a supporter because of that comment,” said Dewey Riehn, a veteran from Missouri.

Trump spent much of his time attacking Clinton and the Democratic Party. He set a darker tone than Clinton, who said Monday that she doesn’t “understand people who trash-talk America,” and that she won’t be the candidate of “fear and smear” tactics.

“You know her name: Crooked Hillary Clinton. And believe me, folks, she is crooked,” Trump said of Clinton. It was another sharp difference from Clinton’s approach Tuesday: She didn’t mention Trump by name once in her 30-minute address.

“In a very true way, they really established ISIS, because of weakness,” Trump said of the results of American foreign policy under Clinton as secretary of state in the Obama administration. The Islamic State, or ISIS, grew out of the insurgency in Iraq, which sprung up after the 2003 American invasion of that country under the Bush administration.

Trump also criticized Democrats for not mentioning ISIS by name during their convention Monday night in Philadelphia.

“ISIS – it’s a word you didn’t hear last night,” Trump said.

The Clinton campaign Tuesday released a statement it said was from Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and state Sen. Jeff Jackson.

“The truth is that Trump has a displayed a pattern of disrespect toward those who have served our country,” the statement said. “He has lied about his donations to veterans’ charities and shown contempt toward prisoners of war, claiming that Senator John McCain is ‘not a war hero’ because he spent five years in captivity.”

He also criticized Clinton for using a personal email server while she was U.S. secretary of state. He said the email server put American security at risk.

“Lock her up!” people shouted.

“To think she was here yesterday. I guess she didn’t do very well,” Trump said.

“Our politicians have failed you,” Trump told the capacity crowd of about 6,000 in the hall, speaking about VA wait times for veterans to see doctors. “Our most basic commitment to provide health and medical care has been violated completely. Many died waiting for care that never came.

“Can you imagine the waste and corruption? And I’ll tell you, we will find it, and we will find it bigly,” said Trump. “She has a much different view. She’s trying to sweep it under the rug.”

He also said he would not allow refugees to enter the U.S. from Syria and criticized Clinton and her running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, for wanting to bring refugees into the country. The crowd cheered loudly and many stood to applaud Trump.

“We have to be the smart country again, or we’re in big, big trouble,” Trump said.

Even so, many VFW members expressed skepticism of both candidates. Trump has faced scrutiny for his views on the military.

Trump has suggested that the United States should abandon its NATO obligations for mutual defense if nations don’t pay their share of NATO costs.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Trump’s NATO remarks a “rookie mistake.” But Trump appeared to echo his earlier comments Tuesday.

“We can’t be taken advantage of by these countries that we work so closely with. Many of these countries are taking advantage of us, folks,” Trump said. “We want to be friends, but they also have to be friends with us.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

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