President Trump's trip to visit U.S. service members in Iraq and Germany this week at times had the air of one of his political rallies, from the soundtrack to his digs at specific Democrats and implied criticism of military commanders. At the al-Asad Air Base in Iraq and Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Trump also signed red "Make America Great Again" hats, a Trump campaign banner, and Trump 2020 paraphernalia, raising concerns that troops were violating military regulations against partisan activity while in uniform.
Trump said there was nothing wrong with him signing MAGA hats, tweeting Thursday evening: "If these brave young people ask me to sign their hat, I will sign. Can you imagine my saying NO?" He insisted that his team "brought or gave NO hats" to the service members. U.S. Air Forces Europe cleared the service members, too, telling Stars and Stripes that "there is no rule against airmen bringing personal items to be signed by the president," and they didn't violate rules against wearing partisan political gear because they were carrying the Trump hats, not wearing them. "No policy violations have been brought to our attention at this time," USAFE said.
A Pentagon official told The New York Times that the department was aware of the concerns and is "trying to figure it out" by tracking down photographs of troops holding Trump campaign paraphernalia and investigating where it came from. The Air Force captain in Germany carrying the Trump flag had been told to put it away by an Air Force official, Stars and Stripes reports, but she pulled it back out when Trump arrived.
"The president's behavior — out of step with that of his predecessors — highlighted the struggle Pentagon leaders face in navigating an avowedly apolitical military through a hyperpartisan era in U.S. politics," The Washington Post says, "particularly under a commander in chief unafraid of breaking with established norms." Peter Weber