Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's first major "national security" speech from Los Angeles on Tuesday evening featured few new ideas for military policy or Veterans Affairs reform but plenty of promises to crack down on illegal immigration and "make our country great again."
"We're going to make our military so big, so strong and so great, so powerful that we're never going to have to use it," the former reality TV star told a crowd of several hundred cheering supporters. "We're going to have a president who is respected by Putin, respected by Iran."
The roughly 12-minute speech, which took place on the deck of the decommissioned battleship USS Iowa, came less than 24 hours before the second GOP candidates debate and amid another surge in the polls by Trump. About a third of would-be Republican voters say they they'd back the business mogul, in spite of (or because of) his lack of any experience in public office.
More than half of the address was focused on illegal immigration, with Trump repeating past promises to build a wall between the United States and Mexico "and make Mexico pay for it."
But Trump did blast the Iran nuclear deal as "one of the dumbest deals and weakest contracts I've ever seen of any kind" and vowed to make foreign adversaries fear America again if he becomes commander in chief.
"We're going to make our military so big, so strong and so great … so powerful that we're never going to have to use it," he said.
He made a passing reference to defense budget caps passed by Congress under President Obama's watch and blasted the current administration's failure to provide adequate health care for veterans.
"We have illegal immigrants who are treated better than our veterans right now," he quipped, drawing even more cheers.
Trump indicated he would support some type of effort to provide health care vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector, an idea endorsed by fellow GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson in a USA Today op-ed this week. He vowed that all U.S. veterans are "gonna get the greatest service of any veterans in any country, because you deserve it."
Trump's remarks came after an introduction by former television game show host Wink Martindale and an endorsement by Veterans for a Strong America, a conservative group that Trump said has "hundreds of thousands of veterans" but is largely unknown among major veterans service organizations.
The frontrunner has widened his lead in the polls in recent weeks despite several high-profile military-related mishaps, including mocking Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for being taken prisoner of war in Vietnam and writing in a biography that he felt like he had served in the military because he attended a military-themed prep school.
He also received criticism after a national radio interview where he confused Iran's Quds forces and the Kurdish people, then failed to identify the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas. In response, Trump claimed he could become an expert on all foreign policy issues within 24 hours of being elected president.
The second GOP debate will air on CNN at 8 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday.