ELM GROVE, Wis. – Patrick Proctor Brown says the war in Afghanistan was lost within a year of its start. The suburban Milwaukee lawyer, who was an infantry captain in Iraq, said the trillions of dollars spent and the thousands of lives lost, including a lieutenant he trained with, make it “a tragedy.”
"And the Taliban will be back in power in a year," said Brown, 35, who also studied diplomacy at Norwich, a military university in Vermont. "It’s insane.”
Brown supports President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, and by voting for the Democrat, he represents a subtle but potent shift in the voting behavior of some in the military.
Voters who served in the military have long leaned toward Republicans. But there are signs that Biden may have cut into that advantage last year. Biden carried several counties with large military communities — as well as the most concentrated military congressional district last year — that former President Donald Trump and previous Republican presidential nominees counted on for decades.
Veteran groups and pollsters attribute Biden's gains to a handful of factors, including an increase in female, Black, Latino and college-educated service members, all keys to the Democratic coalition.
But strategists also point to the stark contrast in Biden's and Trump's approaches to the military. Biden, the father of an Iraq War veteran, often closes his speeches with a short prayer for U.S. troops. Trump, meanwhile, was quick to praise veterans in public, but also made Islamophobic attacks on the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq — a Gold Star family — and made comments mocking American war dead.
The contrast raises the question of whether Democrats' fledgling momentum with military voters is more than a momentary anti-Trump blip. It also heaps pressure on Biden to fulfill policy promises and perfect the political outreach to veterans getting underway.
“This president has got to end these wars," said Jon Soltz, a former Army tank captain who formed the Democratic-leaning VoteVets.org in 2006. "He’s got to fulfill some of these promises. There’s a war-weariness in the military."