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Trump's List of Military Endorsements Seen by Some as Lacking Firepower

Former GOP candidate Mitt Romney had more than 350 retired generals and admirals as advisors — only 36 of whom signs a letter endorsing Trump.
Image: Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses during a town hall, Sept. 6, in Virginia Beach.Evan Vucci / AP

Donald Trump released a list of 88 military endorsements, boasting it as a sign of his support among the armed forces. However, some observers find what's most surprising about the list isn’t who's on it but rather who's not.

Trump's release Tuesday came as he and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton enter a week that will focus on national security.

The two candidates will face a Wednesday commander-in-chief forum on MSNBC and the anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday.

Only 10 percent of Gov. Mitt Romney’s military advisory council in the 2012 election appear on the letter backing this year’s Republican nominee.

Related: Trump Leads Clinton Among Military and Veteran Voters

"The fact that there aren’t any major names on the list — that it's short — that’s what's surprising. These are not big names," retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs and MSNBC military analyst told NBC News of the list.

"There’s almost no name on that list that I recognized," said retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who added he was surprised in recognizing just a handful of names despite growing up with a father who was a three-star general, and despite spending decades in the service himself.

Underscoring the candidate's competition for military backing, Hillary Clinton's campaign answered Trump's list on Wednesday with one of its own.

Clinton's list included 95 retired generals and admirals — including several four-star generals — endorsing the Democrat's candidacy, versus Trump's 88.

Still, an NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday found Trump leads Clinton by 19 points among voters who are currently serving or have previously served in the U.S. military.

Republican candidates typically have no shortage of military supporters: 500 retired admirals and generals took out an ad in the Washington Times to show support for Gov. Mitt Romney on the eve of the 2012 election. Romney also had 354 retired generals and admirals on his "military advisor council" — just 36 of whom appeared on Trump’s list this week.

Both Jacobs and McCaffrey suggested disdain for Clinton might be a stronger motivator than support for Trump.

"There’s no question in my mind that there is enormous anger against Secretary Clinton over the emails," McCaffrey said, adding that social issues like women in the infantry may also frustrate older veterans.

Hillary Clinton's campaign announced Wednesday that 95 retired generals and admirals, including several four-star generals, had endorsed her candidacy.

Related: Hillary Clinton Maintains Six-Point Buffer Over Donald Trump

Trump's 88 endorsers wrote in their open letter Tuesday that the election was an "urgently needed opportunity to make a long-overdue course correction in our national security posture and policy."

While many of the signatories had more low-profile military resumes, a handful have earned headlines for controversy.

Retired Army Lt. General William G. Boykin is known for describing the war on terror as a proxy fight between a "Christian nation" and the "idol of Islam." The rhetoric earned the criticism of President George W. Bush. Boykin was also formally reprimanded for releasing classified information in a book published in 2008, according to the Washington Post.

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Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney is a Fox News commentator who once wrote a court affidavit in support of an army lieutenant who refused to deploy because did not believe President Barack Obama was an American citizen.

"You don't have a lot of fighting soldiers on this list, and I think it’s because he pissed off a lot of people who are fighting soldiers," Jacobs said of the just over a dozen Army names on the list.

Trump famously criticized 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain as "not a war hero" because he was captured during Vietnam. "I like people that weren't captured," Trump said.

"A lot of people in uniform remember that," Jacobs said.

In addition to the latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll, a survey released earlier this month found Trump leading Clinton among military families by 10 points, 51 percent to 41 percent.

Clinton has the support of four retired four-star generals, while three retired full generals and an admiral appear on the letter released by the Trump campaign.

Clinton boasted in February when 19 generals and admirals endorsed her, and brought out retired Gen. John Allen, flanked by dozens of military members, to Philadelphia for a fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention.

On Tuesday, Clinton highlighted Trump’s more hyperbolic and inflammatory statements ahead of the Wednesday's MSNBC forum with a new ad titled "Sacrifice."

The ad focuses on Trump's past statement that he "knows more about ISIS than the generals do," his comments about McCain's military service, and the businessman's response that he "made a lot of sacrifices" as a real estate developer when questioned about his comments about a military family whose son was killed in Iraq.