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Near Ft. Bragg, Trump Praises Military, Defends Position on Torture

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attracted thousands of supporters to a rally in Fayetteville.
Jay Price
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attracted thousands of supporters to a rally in Fayetteville.

Days ahead of North Carolina's primary, Republican front-runner Donald Trump led a boisterous rally in Fayetteville.

Jay Price reports on Donald Trump's campaign appearance near Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The now-familiar trappings of a Trump rally were all here - supporters waving "Make America Great Again" signs. Protesters being shouted down and escorted out every few minutes - some going gently, some in handcuffs. And the candidate himself, with his trademark superlatives.

"Do we love North Carolina?" he asked the crowd at one point.

Later, he assured them, "We'll do great, great in Ohio."

But the backdrop was different from his previous North Carolina campaign events in Raleigh and Concord. He had come the home of Fort Bragg, the nation's largest Army base by population.

"I want to welcome all of the people … the incredible military talent," Trump said, "And it is talent indeed."

Trump's appearance came as he faces rising criticism of his fitness as a potential Commander in Chief, much of it triggered by his suggestions that he would order troops to torture prisoners and kill the families of terrorists.

Former CIA chief Michael Hayden said the military would mutiny rather than commit war crimes. And dozens of GOP national security experts signed an open letter opposing him.

Trump responds that he would change torture laws.

"If we're going to win these things, we're going to have to fight them on a very, very much more level playing field, or you're not going to do anything," he said in his Fayetteville remarks. "So we have to expand our laws, and we have to do what we have to do."

He was then interrupted by a protestor wearing a T-shirt that said "Love is the answer."

Trump said he would support the troops and take care of veterans, but spoke in generalities.

Soldiers and veterans who came to his rally didn't care about the criticisms.

"He seems like the best candidate to represent the military," said Specialist Dylan Beaver of the 82nd Airborne Division. "He'll make America great again."

"He loves our country, and I just believe in the man," said Air Force vet Chris Ramsey of Goldsboro. "I feel like he's got our back, so I'm going to get his back. That's how vets go."

Exit polling said Trump did well with troops and veterans when he won last month's South Carolina primary, but those groups - like many others - are sharply divided on his candidacy.

There were plenty who stayed away Wednesday night.

"I don't think he offers anything to veterans, other than uncertainty," said retired Army Lt. Col. Jim Womack, a former GOP county commissioner who lives just north of the base in Lee County with his wife, herself a combat veteran who retired after 33 years.

Womack has a daughter headed to West Point and says he's not sure yet which Republican candidate he'll vote for. But he knows which one he doesn't want making life and death decisions for his daughter and other American troops.

He says there's a host of reasons not to vote for Trump, including the candidate's insults to women and the disabled. And he believes the comments about ordering troops to torture prisoners and kill civilians weren't slips.

"Those were streams of consciousness," Womack said. "Those were not just half-baked ideas."

It was hard to know how many people in the crowd at the Trump rally were veterans. Or on active duty, since military regulations prohibit active duty troops from wearing their uniforms at political events. But the 10,000 seat arena was nearly full, so it's seems clear that his support runs deep in this military community.

Copyright 2016 North Carolina Public Radio

Military and Veterans Affairs Reporter, North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC
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