2020 Democratic contender and war veteran Pete Buttigieg slammed Donald Trump, saying the president exploited his privilege and “fake[d] a disability” to avoid serving in the Vietnam War.
Buttigieg addressed the president’s five deferments from service, focusing mainly on his 1968 diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels, which earned him his lone medical exemption.
“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,” Buttigieg told The Washington Post during a live forum.
“Do you believe he has a disability? At least not that one. That is actually really important, because I don’t mean to trivialize disability, but I think that’s exactly what he did.”
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor alluded to Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability, and doubled down on his claim that the president took advantage of his father’s wealth to scheme his way out of serving.
“If you were a conscientious objector, I’d admire that,” he said. “But this is somebody who… took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multi-millionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.”
Buttigieg continued, “I know that that dredges up old wounds from a complicated time, during a complicated war, but I’m also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency.”
The 37-year-old served in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and earned a Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work.
Trump, meanwhile, has said it was a high draft number and a “foot thing” that helped him avoid being drafted.
“I love the country. I’ve seen what it can do. I didn’t serve,” he said at a 2015 rally. “And frankly I had deferments because of college, like a lot of people did… I always felt a little bit guilty.”
Though Trump told the New York Times in 2016 he’d received a “very strong letter” from a doctor regarding his bone spurs, the outlet reported in December the podiatrist’s daughter said the diagnosis was given as a “favor” to Trump’s father.
Dr. Larry Braunstein, who died in 2007, allegedly fabricated the foot condition as a thank-you to Fred C. Trump for being a good landlord in letting Braunstein rent office space, his daughter said.
“I know it was a favor,” his daughter Dr. Elysa Braunstein told the Times. “It was family lore. It was something we would always discuss.”
The Times noted the Braunstein family account was not corroborated by known documents, largely due to the passing years. According to the National Archives, most of the government’s medical paperwork relating to the draft no longer exists, and Braunstein left no medical records with his relatives.
Also at the forum, Buttigieg revealed his plan to counter Trump’s combative campaign style.
“He’s gonna try to get your attention, he’s gonna try to get under your skin. He’s gonna try to distract us… What we’ve gotta learn is kind of how to stiff-arm him. So it’s almost like a sort of crazy uncle management,” he said.
“I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was, you know, working on season 7 of Celebrity Apprentice when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan.”
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