Donald Trump Reveals Plans for the Military in Union League Speech

The Republican presidential candidate gave a speech focused on national defense. He was a bit more specific than usual.

Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP

Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP

In Philadelphia today, Donald Trump was something he rarely is on the campaign trail: specific.

Today at the Union League’s Lincoln Hall, Trump’s half-hour speech for invited guests and the press included somewhat-detailed policy positions about his plans for the military as commander-in-chief.

Trump wants to expand the army to around 540,000 active-duty soldiers; the 2015 Congressional budget required the Army to reduce active forces to below 490,000. Trump also gave specifics on other military forces: a 36-battalion Marine Corps, 350 surface ships and submarines in the Navy, and at least 1,200 fighter aircraft in the Air Force. He also called for the end of defense sequestration, which imposes across-the-board cuts if Congress cannot agree on targeted cuts.

“Three words should be at the center of our foreign policy,” Trump said. “Peace through strength … We have a [former] secretary of state running for president who refuses to say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ If you can’t say the words, you’re never going to solve the problem.”

Other plans were less specific than his proposals for number of planes and soldiers. Trump said that immediately after he takes office, he will “ask the generals to present a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS.” He said that would require regular warfare, cyber warfare, and ideological warfare. He’ll “seek to develop a state-of-the-art missile defense system.” In a dig at Hillary Clinton, Trump says he’ll “enforce all classification rules, and enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information.”

The biggest applause lines of the day came when Trump discussed the Clinton email controversy. “Hillary Clinton has taught us how vulnerable we are in cyber-hacking,” he said, to a limited amount of applause. He got a bigger cheer when he continued: “It is probably the only thing she has taught us.” He also said that “ISIS is using the Internet to intercept and do all sorts of things to our country.” Later, when discussing a Clinton staffer who took the Fifth while testifying, he added: “Aye yi yi.” This received the loudest cheer of all.

Trump also said he would be asking Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries “to pay more for the tremendous security we provide them.” He also added that he will “never, ever let you down” — a message to veterans — that he will “protect those who protect us” and that “we will work across all income and racial lines to create one American nation.”

“And, by the way, we love our flag,” Trump said after saying he will unite all of America under it. “We will discard the failed policy and division of the past and rebuild our economy, rebuild our inner cities … and rebuild our country. We will bring back our jobs and not let our jobs go to other countries.”

Union League - Trump speech

Donald Trump speaks in the Union League’s expansive Lincoln Room on Wednesday. | Photo: Dan McQuade

Outside, protests flared — similar to the anti-Trump protests last Friday in North Philadelphia. Asa Khalif held a sign that simply read, “Trump = Hitler.” There were some supporters, though: George Petruncio — a Blackwood, New Jersey, physician wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat — told the media Trump is “a new Teddy Roosevelt.”

“Two options, I’m going to vote for Trump,” said Chris Wolfington, the CEO of King of Prussia–based FinPay, who attended the speech. “I know he’ll deliver. The guy is a winner. Anything he believes in, that he’s put his mind to, he’s won.”

Trump’s campaign on Tuesday released a letter signed by 88 former generals endorsing Trump for president. Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who introduced Trump on Wednesday, said that “hundreds” more had come forward after the letter was released. A handful of the 88 were in attendance at the League today.

The list was seen as lacking firepower — on the eve of the 2012 election, Mitt Romney had 500 former generals and admirals supporting him. In response, Clinton’s team announced that 95 former generals and admirals backing her.

“Trump has demonstrated he is fundamentally unprepared to lead our country by saying he knows more about ISIS than our generals and by picking fights with our allies across the globe,” said Corey Dukes, Hillary’s Pennsylvania director. “But it’s not just his foreign policy that’s dangerous and reckless: At home, Trump shamelessly disrespects our own military, insults military families and compares great Pennsylvania cities to war zones. He has denigrated Philadelphians, heroic prisoners of war like John McCain, and a Gold Star family whose son paid the ultimate sacrifice — showing us all exactly why he can never be president of the United States.”

That wasn’t the only hit Clinton landed on Trump today. Just before the speech at the Union League, Clinton’s campaign held speeches across the street in the Wells Fargo Building. Will Fischer, executive director of the Union Veterans Council and Marine veteran of the Iraq War, as well as Congressional candidate/U.S. Army Reserves Col. Mike Parrish and former Army captain Jason Hartwig spoke in support of Clinton.

A recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll found Trump leading among military and veteran voters, 55 percent to 36 percent. Though Trump has edged closer, Clinton leads the race in an average of recent polls.