It had been months since retired Lt. Cmdr. Michele Fitzpatrick paid attention to news coverage. She was turned off by President Donald Trump’s tweetstorms and attacks on critics such as the late Republican Sen. John McCain, a war hero. But as the November midterm elections approached, she fired up her laptop.
A member of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Class of 1980, the first to include women, Fitzpatrick began researching candidates and poring over issues. On Election Day, she voted without hesitation: all Democrat.
“I just don’t think what’s happening now is helpful,” Fitzpatrick, of Groton, Connecticut, said in a telephone interview, pointing to the negative discourse in Washington. “It’s almost like watching kids and bullies on the playground instead of people actually doing something about helping this country to survive and to thrive.”
That’s hardly a startling view from a Democrat these days. But from a military vet?
Long seen as a bastion of support for Republicans, the face of the U.S. military and its veterans is changing — and perhaps too is their political bent.
Veterans by and large did vote for GOP candidates on Nov. 6, affirming Trump’s frequent claim that they stand among his strongest backers. But more women are joining the military, and they are bucking the pattern, according to data from AP VoteCast.
The 60-year-old Fitzpatrick recalls suppressing her opinions as a young “hardcore Democrat” in an overwhelmingly Republican military but finding other ways to promote change, such as supporting other female cadets.
Now, women in the military are helping elect new Democratic lawmakers and spur discussion on once little-mentioned topics such as sexual harassment and women in combat roles. As political candidates, female veterans also had a breakout performance in the midterms, sometimes campaigning as a foil to Trump: empathetic and competent on issues such as health care while also trustworthy on military and defense, typically a GOP strength.
“I see this as a beginning edge of a larger movement,” said Jeremy Teigen, professor of political science at Ramapo College and author of “Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016.”