On Thursday morning during a panel sponsored by The Washington Post, South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 presidential contender Pete Buttigieg put Donald Trump on blast, calling him out for faking a disability in order to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War.
Post reporter Robert Costa asked Buttigieg if Trump should have served in Vietnam. The reality television star infamously sought and received multiple deferments from the draft because of supposed “bone spurs” that prevented him from serving.
“I have a pretty dim view of his decision to use his privileged status to fake a disability in order to avoid serving in Vietnam,” said Buttigieg.
The allegation that Trump faked a disability is not new and is supported by ample evidence, but to hear it put so bluntly by a leading presidential candidate is a bit of a departure — one that Costa was quick to seize on.
“You believe he faked a disability?” he asked, with some incredulity.
“Do you believe he has a disability?” was Buttigieg’s equally incredulous response. “Yeah. At least not that one. I don’t mean to trivialize disability, but I think that’s exactly what he did.”
Trump received five deferments from the Vietnam War draft during the 1960s. The last came about thanks to a timely diagnosis of bone spurs, a condition deemed serious enough to disqualify him from military service. A report last year in the New York Times tracked down a Queens podiatrist who is thought to have been the doctor who signed off on Trump’s diagnosis as a favor to his landlord — one Fred Trump, Donald’s father.
Buttigieg made clear on Thursday that his disdain for Trump isn’t rooted in the fact that he never served in the military, but the way in which he went about avoiding service.
“If he were a conscientious objector, I’d admire that,” he said. “But this is somebody who, I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire, in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.”
Buttigieg, who took a leave of absence from his job as mayor to do a tour of duty in Afghanistan as part of the Navy reserves, is hardly the first politician to call out Donald Trump for his mockery of the United States military. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq, slammed Trump from the floor of the Senate last year during the government shutdown, after the president — whom she mocked as “cadet bone spurs” — tried to pin delayed military paychecks on Democrats.
“I will not be lectured about what our military needs by a five-deferment draft dodger,” Duckworth said at the time.
From the earliest days of Buttigieg’s presidential exploratory committee, well before his rapid ascent in the polls, reporters and citizens alike questioned the viability of a 37-year-old openly gay mayor of a small midwestern city to capture the Democratic presidential nomination over a field of established entities. But the way Buttigieg responded to skeptical questions at the outset of his campaign helped him push his way toward the field’s upper echelon.
“I have more years of experience in government than the president of the United States does, I have more years of executive experience than the vice president of the United States has, and I have more military experience than the two of them put together,” he said during one of his first interviews after entering the race.
In addition to dodging the draft, Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked military veterans, including the late Sen. John McCain. He refused to visit the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial outside Paris earlier this year to commemorate American service members who died during World War I because he did not want to get caught in a light drizzle (the leaders of Canada, France, and Germany were among those who managed to pack an umbrella). He has personally attacked the families of soldiers who died in the line of duty, and publicly called others liars from the grounds of the White House.
Buttigieg appeared hesitant to relitigate questions over enlistment during the Vietnam War, but Trump’s demeanor during that era touched on something more fundamental than military service.
“I know that that dredges up old wounds from a complicated time during a complicated war,” he said. “But I’m also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency. And so I think it deserves to be talked about.”