A day after Donald Trump announced the formation of “Veterans For Trump,” a small New Hampshire-based coalition that supports the bellicose business mogul’s bid for the White House, at least two of the veterans named as supporters distanced themselves from team Trump. The announcement of the veterans group came five days after Trump said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is only considered a war hero because he was captured by the enemy during the Vietnam War.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said Ernie Fusi, a World War II veteran whose name was still listed among the 51 veteran supporters on Trump’s campaign website on Saturday.
In a report published Friday by the Guardian, the 88-year-old resident of Atkinson, New Hampshire, said he never mentioned to anyone that he supported the New York billionaire. Fusi said he's abstaining from the Republican primary vote but that he would vote for whichever candidate emerges as the Republican nominee at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland next July.
Donald Richards, a veteran based in Laconia, New Hampshire, and his wife Connie were also named as supporters, but Richards, who is president of a local parks association, said the only connection he has to the candidate is that Trump paid his group to rent a community center for a July 17 event.
A day after that Laconia campaign stop, Trump belittled McCain's track record. "He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people who weren’t captured," Trump said in a July 18 campaign stop in Iowa. During a speech in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Saturday, Trump held up letters he said were written by veterans thanking him for running, but he didn’t address the reports that his website lists veterans who deny association to his campaign.
Trump now displaying what he says are letters from veterans thanking him -- all from one day. pic.twitter.com/DbWBAEj42E
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) July 25, 2015
McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He can’t lift his arms above his head because of injuries sustained during torture sessions. Trump claims bone spurs on his heels disqualified him from being drafted for the war, but his own campaign says he avoided military service because his number did not come up in the 1969 draft lottery, according to the Washington Post. Instead of serving, Trump began his career at his father’s real estate company.
McCain responded to Trump’s attack by agreeing with him: that’s he’s not a hero.
“I’m not a hero, but those who were my senior ranking officers, people like Col. Bud Day, Congressional Medal of Honor winner, those who inspired us to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been capable of doing, those are the people he [Trump] owes an apology to,” McCain told CNN on Monday.
New Hampshire will hold its Republican Party primary election on Feb. 9, a week after the Iowa caucuses kick off the party’s primary election season. Early state primaries and caucuses are important to candidates because they can signal which candidates are most likely to emerge as the nominee.
Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada will make their picks for the Republican nominee in February, which will determine the fate of many of the current 15 contenders who have announced they are seeking the Republican nomination, including outliers like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Trump is currently leading in many polls, but it’s too early to tell who will emerge as the top contender. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and junior U.S. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are also polling well.