NORFOLK -- Donald Trump, never one to do anything small, on Saturday chose one of the largest battleships the Navy has ever built to roll out his plan to “make the VA great again.”
At a rally beside the USS Wisconsin, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination promised to remake the troubled Veterans Affairs agency.
Billed as “the Trump Plan” in keeping with the billionaire developer’s habit of naming things after himself, the initiative would allow veterans to get medical care from any doctors or medical facilities that accept Medicare. It also would give veterans education benefits, business loans, job training and placement services to ease their transition from battlefield to civilian life.
The plan was cheered by veterans in the crowd, which the campaign estimated at more than 5,000. It seemed intended to answer critics who have said that Trump has been long on inflammatory rhetoric and short on realistic policy proposals.
Trump did not lay out the details of the plan during his nearly 90-minute speech. He said they were coming in a news release to be issued later in the day.
“We are going to make the VA great again,” he said. “And we’re going to do it by firing the corrupt, incompetent VA executives who let our veterans down.”
In a nod to female veterans, Trump said he would require all VA hospitals to be fully equipped with obstetrician-gynecologists.
“The fact that many VA hospitals don’t … staff OB/GYN doctors shows utter lack of respect for the growing numbers of female veterans,” he said.
Trump drew criticism this summer when he appeared to suggest that Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle was the reason she had subjected him to tough questions during the first Republican presidential debate. Trump later said that his remarks about Kelly were misconstrued.
Trump is offering up his VA plan as his campaign enters a new, more mature phase. With retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson now leading polls in Iowa, Trump has recently dialed down the bombast.
Which is not to say his appearance here lacked for Trump’s trademark swagger and hyperbole.
He came and left the event to the strains of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” His first words were “To hell with the press.” And then he launched into a long, winding, sometimes repetitious stump speech that included his famous bricks-and-mortar prescription for illegal immigration.
“I’m going to build a wall,” he said to cheers. “It’s going to be a big, beautiful wall because someday it’s gonna be named after me.”
He took the usual jabs at Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton (“who does not have it”) and distant Republican rival Jeb Bush (“I think I’m going to revive him”). He was generally more respectful toward Carson, but he noted that compared with Bush, “Ben Carson’s an even lower-key individual.”
“I like Ben Carson, but there’s no way he can fix this, folks,” he said, referring to VA.
Trump might have betrayed some anxiety about Carson’s ascent after he told the crowd, “Ben Carson wants to get rid of Medicare.”
When the line elicited boos, Trump responded, “Why don’t you show that in the polling booth?”
Trump supporter Kam Clark said he hoped the candidate would not tone it down too much.
“He has a certain swagger about him,” the 19-year-old from Old Dominion University said.
Demetrio Marchione, a 55-year-old Merchant Marine, said the country needs a leader who does not pull his punches.
“We’ve got to change what’s going on in Washington now,” he said. “Balance the budget so we don’t end up like Greece.”