President Trump's military parade plan is a brilliant political move

  • President Trump's call for a military parade is raising alarm from the usual suspects.
  • But it's an easy decision to make for a president who enjoys stronger support from the military and veterans than any other significant segment of the population.
  • It also traps the Trump opposition into taking a position that may seem hostile to the troops and popular patriotic imagery.

President Donald Trump wants a parade, and it's setting off yet another angry debate.

That's because the president wants a military parade, reportedly inspired by the Bastille Day festivities he witnessed in Paris in July. That feeds into some persistent criticisms from the staunch anti-Trump side that he is a fascist looking to appeal to red state America's nascent militarism.

Everybody calm down.

This parade actually makes sense in the most non-fascist and democratic terms possible. Unlike fascist regimes, Trump needs voter support. That sometimes means winning over new voters here and there. But the real imperative for an incumbent is to keep and acknowledge the voters who got you in office in the first place.

By contrast, the anti-Trump types triggered by this move sure seem like a lost cause. People jumping at the chance to frequently compare the president to Adolf Hitler aren't going to be won over, anyway. But as they go before the more moderate public and show such an extreme opposition to a parade, they make Trump look much more reasonable in comparison.

Take a good look at the Bastille Day parade from last year, and it's not hard to see why such an event appeals to Trump. That's because the Bastille Day parade isn't exactly like the Nazi or Soviet military parades of the past. The stars of the French parade aren't the politicians or even the weapons, but the actual troops and military veterans. They dominate the parade route at every turn.

That's the key to what makes copying such a spectacle such a positive for Trump. Polls show that America's troops continue to be stronger supporters of this president than the public at large. U.S. military veterans are much more pro-Trump than almost any other group, with data showing they chose him over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election by a large 60 percent-to-34 percent margin.

There's a geographic aspect to this as well. It's not so much that blue state America doesn't support the troops. The bigger issue is that most of blue state America seems to be generally disconnected from the military. The Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions where Trump tends to poll poorly send a significantly smaller portion of enlistees to the military than the national average. Trump strongholds in the South and rural America send a much higher proportion than the national average of their populations to the armed forces.

Active duty troops tell only part of the story. Veterans are more likely to support Trump than non-veterans and those still serving in the armed forces. It was those veterans in the key swing states who likely made the difference in the 2016 election for the Trump campaign.

Now the picture should be getting clearer: The Trump team wants to put his strongest and largest source of support in the spotlight and reward it with national attention on the July 4 holiday. It's really a political no-brainer.

Of course, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it. Americans will be rightly spooked if the parade includes massive missiles and artillery rolling along Constitution Avenue. Tanks are probably okay, but only as long as there are troops visibly sticking out of them and being acknowledged as they are in the Bastille Day event.

But imagine a parade dominated by some of the elite military bands, Medal of Honor recipients marching together, and those awesome B-2 stealth bomber and F-35 fighter jet flyovers. These are the exact same kinds of imagery America rolls out during every Super Bowl Sunday, but all too briefly when you consider there are so many other troops and veterans who never get acknowledged on a stage anywhere near that big.

That imagery also works well for Trump. Appearing with the troops with big American flags providing the backdrop is almost never a negative for any president.

A famous story in veteran media circles proves that point. After then-CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl aired that was highly critical of President Ronald Reagan's policies, top White House advisor Michael Deaver actually thanked Stahl because the video in the piece was dominated with Reagan standing proudly at patriotic events. Deaver said: "In the competition between the ear and the eye, the eye always wins."

It's that image of Trump as the ultimate cheerleader and defender of the troops and the military that seems to be working for him right now. Last month, he framed the government shutdown as the Democrats choosing the so-called "Dreamer" illegal immigrants over paying the troops. The polls seem to show the president won the shutdown battle thanks to that argument.

Now, he's pushing support for the recent budget agreement in Congress solely on the argument that it boosts defense spending and helps the troops.

It seems more than a coincidence that this is also the time that the president's support for a military parade leaks out to the news media. Trump can now take a page out of his shutdown strategy and make the point that the parade would really be a celebration of the troops and ask why any American would oppose that.

Trump knows he won the election largely due to active duty troops and veterans. That's why this parade idea works for him and fighting and ridiculing it could be a dangerous trap for those who oppose him.

Commentary by Jake Novak, senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.

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