On Saturday morning, Donald Trump blasted Senator John McCain, quipping that he was “not a war hero” because he was captured. “I like people who weren’t captured,” quipped Trump.
John McCain was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and was held as a prisoner of war for more than five years. By all accounts he conducted himself honorably, enduring torture and refusing early release unless those who were captured before him were released first. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, among other honors, for his service.
The remarks have predictably generated an avalanche of criticism from the rest of the Republican presidential field. Jeb Bush, for example, tweeted the following:
Enough with the slanderous attacks. @SenJohnMcCain and all our veterans – particularly POWs have earned our respect and admiration.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) July 18, 2015
This seems like an uncontroversial statement. Who would disagree with the notion that “all our veterans” deserve “respect and admiration” for their service?
One such person, recent history reveals, is Jeb Bush.
In 2004, a group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spent millions of dollars attacking the military service of John Kerry, who was then the Democratic nominee for president. The group claimed that Kerry lied about his service and was awarded military honors he didn’t deserve. The basis for these claims were definitively proven false, but the group carried on with their campaign anyway. (The claims were first published in a book by Jerome Corsi, who would later gain fame for insisting that Obama had a fake birth certificate and was not born in the United States.)
After the campaign Jeb Bush, then Governor of Florida, sent a letter to George Day — a member of the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth who appeared in television advertisements trashing Kerry. Day said Kerry, a recipient of the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, would “go down in history sometime as the Benedict Arnold of 1971.” In his letter, Bush thanks Day and the “other Swifties” for their “support of my brother in his re-election.” “I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry,” Bush wrote.
CREDIT: Peter Daou
On Trump, Rick Perry went even further than Bush, calling on the businessman to withdraw from the race. “His attack on veterans make him unfit to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, and he should immediately withdraw from the race for President,” Perry said.
But when the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth falsely attacked John Kerry, Perry supported their efforts. As the Swift Boat controversy simmered in August 2004, Perry said that “there’s a lot of questions” about Kerry’s military service and called on him to release all his military records.
The Republican Party swiftly condemned Donald Trump’s comments on McCain. But in 2004, the Republican Party repeatedly refused to condemn the Swift Boat ads, which were financed by major donors to the Republican Party. The group was also advised by individuals with close ties to the Bush campaign and the Republican Party. At the Republican National Convention in 2004, many delegates showed up with “Purple Heart” bandages as a way to support the Swift Boat advertisements and mock Kerry.