Recently, I noted the comments of a retired flag officer, who though historically a strong Republican, noted his strong discontent with the way the Pentagon had been politicized. It led him to say he was thinking the hitherto unthinkable: voting for some Democrats. Today a study has appeared showing he is not alone.
The military in general, and the officer corps in particular, have considered themselves strong conservatives and have leaned to the Republicans by a substantial margin. Actually, the military has been more Republican than the population as a whole for some time, but it became fairly dramatically Republican after the Vietnam War. Beginning about 1972, the Democratic Party became anti-war and became viewed as anti-military. That disaffection was reciprocated by the military. Moreover, another process set in. When the military draws on a compulsory service principle, it tends to more closely represent the political demographics of the country as a whole—very understandably. When the turn to a voluntary military came, the military became less representative of the country as a whole. A disproportionate part of the military was drawn from rural and economically disadvantaged areas which have usually been more Republican.
Is that situation changing today? It seems clear that the political orientation of the career military, and particularly of the officer corps, is still with the Republicans. But things are clearly shifting. In this regard, a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that military campaign donations are flowing at a brisk rate, but there are some real surprises:
Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, members of the U.S. military have dramatically increased their political contributions to Democrats, marching sharply away from the party they’ve long supported. In the 2002 election cycle, the last full cycle before the war began, Democrats received a mere 23 percent of military members’ contributions. So far this year, 40 percent of military money has gone to Democrats for Congress and president, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Anti-war presidential candidates Barack Obama and Ron Paul are the top recipients of military money.
“People are saying now enough is enough,” said Lt. Col. Joyce Griggs, an intelligence officer who said she spent two months in Baghdad earlier this year, speaking for herself and not the Army. “If you’re a soldier, you’re going to do your job, do what you’re commanded to do. But that sentiment is wide and deep.”
Griggs, who voted for George H.W. Bush but not his son the current president, contributed to Obama’s presidential campaign this year, she said. Among the military forces, she’s not alone in her support for the Democratic senator from Illinois, who has spoken out against the war since its start. Obama, who has never served in the military, has brought in more contributions from uniformed service members—about $27,000—than any other presidential hopeful, Democrat or Republican. “I feel that he’s the most progressive candidate and he stands for change,” Griggs said. “I believe he is that breath of fresh air that we need to get this country back on course.”
But another thing that was really striking in this study. Republicans are still drawing the lion’s share of the money, but which Republicans?
Among GOP candidates, Ron Paul, the only Republican who opposes the war, has brought in the biggest haul from the military since the start of the 2008 election cycle in January—at least $19,250. Republican John McCain, a Vietnam War prisoner who backs the administration’s policy in Iraq, has raised $18,600. Paul, who was a flight surgeon in the Air Force, got nearly twice as much from servicemen and women in the campaign’s first six months as GOP fundraising front-runner Mitt Romney and four times more than better-known candidate Rudy Giuliani.
“If you’re a Republican partisan, but opposed to the war, it is not surprising that you’d find Paul somewhat attractive,” said Ronald Krebs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota who studies the sociology of war and military service.
Somehow this doesn’t surprise me at all. The war-party Republicans—Giuliani, Tancredo, Hunter and Romney—the ones who love to talk about “doubling Gitmo” and who disrespect the traditional military rules that Gitmo tore down, seem to have bombed with the military. John McCain, who passionately upholds traditional military values, is doing very well. And Ron Paul, the Libertarian iconoclast who is the only Republican candidate to oppose the war, does best of all.