The burden of this humiliation fell hardest on Republican strongholds. Demographically, the military draws heavily from the South, rural areas and the working and middle class. And while no racial group has a monopoly on military service, white enlistees make up a disproportionate share of those wounded and killed in action. This is the very same demographic that forms the core of the contemporary Republican base. Whether they were working-class Reagan Democrats like Mamaw or committed middle-class Republicans, the people who made Mr. Bush president are the same people who sent their children to fight in his wars.Add to this a Department of Veterans Affairs that failed to adequately care for returning troops, and it’s almost too perfect a narrative: The same leadership that failed to pacify Iraq cannot properly administer benefits to veterans. The product is combustible frustration. Yet while the Democrats elected an anti-Iraq war candidate in 2008, the Republicans never addressed the anger of their own voters. At best, they criticized the mismanagement of the war or hauled V.A. officials into Congress for hearings. But in 2008 and 2012, the party ran candidates who refused to rethink the Bush foreign policy that led to Iraq.In early 2015, the party appeared ready to coronate Jeb Bush, the brother of the man who started the Iraq war. Jeb drew his advisers from the same pool of discredited thinkers who planned and executed the war. Meanwhile, his chief adversaries rushed to praise George W. Bush’s national security record.
ShareAll but Donald J. Trump. He torments a G.O.P. elite that cannot admit its own failures. Each time he criticizes the Iraq war, each time he denounces a politician for praising George W. Bush, each time he shrieks about our country no longer winning, I can hear Mamaw cheering.Mr. Trump is unfit for our nation’s highest office. But to those humiliated by defeat, he promises we’ll win again. To those discouraged by a government unable to care for the people it sent to war, he promises to take care of our veterans. To those voters furious at politicians who sent their children to fight and bleed and die in Iraq, he tells them what no major Republican politician in a decade has said — that the war was a terrible mistake imposed on the country by an incompetent president. Anger about the wars isn’t the only reason voters support Mr. Trump. But his willingness to say what other G.O.P. candidates won’t reflects what people like most about him: his complete break with the party elite. Because the last time Republican voters put a member of that elite in the White House, he sent their children on a bloody misadventure. Until others recognize that failure, expect many to support the one major candidate who does. (Read more.)