Trump’s Talking Points
A compendium of the president's falsehoods and factual distortions that may be repeated during the convention.
By Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D'Angelo Gore, Jessica McDonald and Rem Rieder
Posted on August 24, 2020
As the Republican National Convention begins today, we present here a rundown of President Donald Trump’s repeated false and misleading claims during the 2020 campaign.
If Trump’s recent speeches are a guide, he may well repeat some of these claims during convention remarks this week. His campaign has said Trump will speak at some point every night, in addition to the nominee’s traditional acceptance speech on Thursday.
Last week, we presented a similar roundup of claims made by the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, in advance of that party’s convention.
Claims are grouped by subject matter. For more on each statement, follow the links to our full stories.
At an Aug. 19 press briefing, the president repeated one of his favorite talking points: “Don’t forget, until the China virus came in, we had the greatest economy in the history of the world.” This is simply false and constantly repeating it doesn’t make it so.
The president likes to point to the stock market as a measure of economic success. But the stock market isn’t the economy. Real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product measures economic growth. Prior to the pandemic, the economy grew by 2.2% last year, down from 3% in 2018 — which was the largest rate of growth under Trump, according to revised figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over the last 39 years — dating to Ronald Reagan’s presidency — the nation’s real economic growth has exceeded Trump’s peak year of 3% 17 times, including most recently under then-President Barack Obama in 2015.
At an Aug. 18 ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, Trump repeated a meaningless boast that prior to the pandemic, “we had 160 million people working. We’ve never even been close to that.” As we’ve written, that’s to be expected. The number of employed Americans generally increases with population growth — except when there are economic downturns, such as the Great Recession that started in December 2007 and now during the pandemic.
Trump also often exaggerates the peak employment number. It’s not 160 million, as he said. It peaked at 152.5 million in February. As of July, there were 139.6 million people employed — the fewest since October 2014, when it was 139.8 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In his bid for reelection, Trump has promised a big economic comeback — a “super V” recovery, as he said in an Aug. 21 speech to conservatives — unless Biden wins and raises taxes. At an Aug. 17 campaign speech in Wisconsin, Trump promised that “you’re going to have an even greater year next year,” before falsely claiming “unless somebody comes in and quadruples your taxes. In which case it’s called the depression folks.”
It’s true that Biden proposes to raise an additional $4 trillion in taxes over the next decade, but the increases would fall mainly on very high-income earners and corporations, and would not nearly double, let alone triple or quadruple, people’s taxes at any income level (on average), according to analyses of Biden’s plan by the Penn Wharton Budget Model, Tax Policy Center and Tax Foundation.
“PWBM’s analysis projects that the Biden tax plan would not double anyone’s taxes, even the highest earners,” Kent Smetters, a professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, told us via email for a story in May.
Travel restriction distortions: Trump has repeatedly touted his restrictions on travel from China as a significant action to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and he has made false and unsubstantiated claims in doing so.
The president calls the restrictions a “ban,” but there were exceptions for U.S. citizens, permanent residents and the immediate family members of both. Others who had traveled to China within the prior two weeks were prohibited from entering the U.S., beginning on Feb. 2. He recently repeated the claim in an Aug. 18 interview with ABC15 in Phoenix, saying, “What I’ve done is I put the ban on China from coming in.”
He went on to falsely say, “And nobody agreed with me at the time, but now they all agree with me.” At the time, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Feb. 7: “These were the uniform recommendations of the career public health officials here at HHS.”
And, as he has claimed for months, Trump said that “Biden was totally against it. He was going, ‘You’re racist, xenophobic.’ And then he apologized because I was right.” But Biden never apologized. His campaign on April 3 said Biden supported the administration’s travel restrictions on China, and it argued that Biden’s earlier comments about Trump’s “record of hysteria and xenophobia” weren’t a reference to the restrictions, though they were made the same day those travel prohibitions were announced.
Also, Trump falsely claims he enacted the restrictions “way ahead of anybody else” or “early, way, way early,” as he said in a campaign speech Aug. 17 in Minnesota. As we have reported, 36 countries imposed travel restrictions by Feb. 2, the day the U.S. restrictions went into effect.
Finally, the president has claimed the travel restrictions saved “hundreds of thousands of lives,” but there’s no evidence for such a number, as we’ve written. He repeated the claim on Aug. 20 in an interview with Fox News. The body of research on travel restrictions shows they can, if they’re very strict, delay the path of the spread of diseases but do little to contain them.
Minimizing COVID-19 impact: Trump has sought to downplay the magnitude or severity of the epidemic in the U.S.
One of Trump’s most persistent claims is that the surge of coronavirus cases that began in June is due to America’s superior testing program rather than an increase in the transmission of the virus. In a June 15 tweet he called testing a “double edged sword” because it is “good to” have, but “[m]akes us look bad,” and said that because U.S. testing “is so much bigger and more advanced than any other country … it shows more cases.” He later claimed that cases are “up only because of our big number testing,” and pointed to the then-still declining rate of daily deaths.
But data from some of the places being hardest hit earlier this summer showed that the case numbers outpaced any increases in testing — and the percentage of positive tests rose, sometimes dramatically so. Hospitalizations in many locales were also growing, another sign that the virus was not just being picked up more by augmented testing.
It would later become clear in July and August that the surge of cases did lead to an uptick in fatalities — and that even by Aug. 24, daily deaths are still significantly higher than in late June.
Another Trump mantra has been that the coronavirus will “go away” or “disappear.” In February, Trump suggested that the virus would “go away” in April as warmer weather made conditions for the virus less hospitable. At the time, scientists told us that no one should rely on seasonal weather to resolve the pandemic — advice that proved prescient.
Trump later amended his claim to say that the virus would “go away without a vaccine.” Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told us that the president’s claim was baseless.
Even with a vaccine, health experts say the coronavirus may not completely disappear and might return in cycles, similar to how past pandemic flu viruses come back as seasonal influenza viruses.
The president has continued to say that the coronavirus would fade away or “disappear” throughout June, July and August.
On July 4, Trump exaggerated the lack of damage that occurs in most COVID-19 infections, claiming — falsely — that “99%” of cases “are totally harmless.” While scientists estimate that only around 1% of people who are infected with the coronavirus die, that does not mean everyone else escapes unscathed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in mid-June that through May 30, 14% of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. led to hospitalizations, including 2% in intensive care units. In addition to those patients, even some who have ostensibly recovered report lingering after-effects, including fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, and joint and chest pain.
On numerous occasions, the president has boasted that the U.S. has “one of the lowest” or “most successful” COVID-19 mortality rates “in the entire world.” But the data do not support his claims. At the time those specific statements were made, America had the 36th highest case fatality ratio (confirmed deaths divided by confirmed cases) and the 12th highest number of deaths (18.63) per 100,000 people.
Trump later falsely said in a press briefing that the U.S. per capita death rate is lower than “most” of Western Europe. That, too, is incorrect. Earlier this month, statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins showed the U.S. has done better on cumulative per capita deaths than Belgium, Spain, the U.K., Italy and Sweden, as well as the microstates Andorra and San Marino. But the U.S. did worse than nearly twice as many other Western European countries.
Similarly, Trump has inaccurately suggested that the U.S. is doing better than several foreign nations experiencing recent upticks in cases. But that ignores that nearly all of the countries he has mentioned still have fewer new daily per capita cases than the U.S.
As recently as Aug. 23, Trump claimed that the U.S had the “lowest case-fatality rate of any major country in the world.” It’s unclear how he’s defining “major country,” but as of Aug. 24, the U.S. has the 53rd highest case-fatality rate out of 170 countries, including more than Austria, Greece, Norway, South Africa, Australia, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Israel, per Johns Hopkins University.
False cures: The president has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial also used to treat lupus and other autoimmune conditions, as an effective COVID-19 treatment, despite a lack of evidence. Trump first said that the drug had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” in a March 21 tweet, when he referenced the results of a study conducted in France.
But that study was not a randomized controlled trial, and had significant caveats and limitations. The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, which published the paper, later said the study did not meet its “expected standard.”
Multiple randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in medical science — also failed to find any benefit for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including a large trial in the U.K. known as RECOVERY.
Citing the RECOVERY results, among other research, the Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine in June. The agency concluded the drugs are “unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA,” and that the “known and potential benefits” of the drugs “no longer outweigh” the risks — which can include “serious cardiac adverse events and other potential serious side effects.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the president was still supportive of hydroxychloroquine as late as Aug. 22, when he said in a tweet that “[m]any doctors and studies disagree” with the FDA’s EUA revocation and its finding that hydroxychloroquine is unlikely to benefit hospitalized COVID-19 patients. In late July, Trump also shared via tweet a viral video of a group of physicians falsely claiming that hydroxychloroquine is a “cure” for COVID-19.
Attempts to blame others: Trump has made several false and misleading claims when trying to blame others in defending his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He falsely claims — as he did in a Fox News interview on Aug. 17 — that the Strategic National Stockpile “cupboards were bare when we came in … we didn’t have ventilators.” In fact, the federal government had more ventilators in stock than it ended up distributing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The SNS had 16,660 ventilators “immediately available for use” when the federal government began deploying the breathing machines to states to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients in March, according to a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson.
None of those ventilators was bought by the Trump administration, the spokesperson told us. Another HHS spokesperson told us the federal government has distributed 10,640 ventilators during the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alone couldn’t conduct the amount of testing this pandemic demanded, a point Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made in March. But several former officials also have said the CDC simply isn’t set up to be a commercial test lab, nor the only source of testing for the entire country.
As we showed in a timeline of testing in the U.S., it was a month after the administration declared a public health emergency (on Jan. 31) that it took steps to allow testing to be conducted more broadly.
The president has falsely said China “stopped it cold,” meaning the virus, from spreading from Wuhan to other parts of China “but they decided not to stop it from going into the U.S. and the rest of the world,” as he repeated in the Aug. 17 Fox News interview.
But China did not stop the coronavirus from spreading from Wuhan, where it originated, to other parts of China. The number of reported cases and deaths in China’s major cities outside Wuhan have been far lower than the numbers in many European and American cities, but China also took extreme measures to slow the spread of the disease.
Trump also wrongly speculated that China stopped flights from Wuhan to the rest of China while allowing flights from Wuhan to other parts of the world, including the U.S. Flight records show China did block international commercial flights out of Wuhan after Jan. 23, according to Flightradar24, a global flight tracking service.
The president has wrongly claimed that in late February, Fauci was saying, “This is no problem. This is going to blow over.” Trump similarly claimed in a July Fox News interview: “Dr. Fauci at the beginning said, ‘This will pass. Don’t worry about it.’”
In a Feb. 29 interview, Fauci said that “right now at this moment” the risk was “low” and there was “no need” for people “to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.” But he added that “this could change,” that people needed to be wary of “community spread,” and that it could develop into a “major outbreak.”
Trump also blamed a spike in coronavirus cases this summer on Black Lives Matter protests and Mexico, mentioning both when naming other reasons. Experts say there is no evidence that the protests or Mexicans have caused the surge in the U.S. Instead, they said, the uptick in cases is a result of some states reopening too quickly or aggressively, without proper measures in place to test, trace and isolate cases, and people generally socializing in ways that would result in spreading the virus.
Many epidemiologists feared the protests would cause a jump in cases, but, as Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told us: “There has been no evidence that protests led to a significant increase in infections.”
In an Aug. 17 speech in Yuma, Arizona, Trump repeated his bogus comparison between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, saying: “Tijuana is probably the worst place in South America, in terms of the China virus. … And San Diego is not suffering at all because of it,” crediting a wall along the border for this. But San Diego has a much higher infection rate, with 15,764 cases, a rate of 1,109.7 per 100,000 people, as of Aug. 22. As of Aug. 24, Tijuana had 4,804 cases, or an infection rate of 268.5 per 100,000 people.
Law and Order
In an interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday” on July 19, Trump charged that Biden “wants to defund the police.” Interviewer Chris Wallace quickly interjected, correctly, that Biden didn’t.
Yet, the Trump campaign has run a series of advertisements suggesting that a Biden administration would cripple law enforcement and unleash criminals. It is part of the president’s larger “law and order” theme — which he has repeated in recent remarks. At an Aug. 19 press briefing, Trump spoke of “saving the world from a radical-left philosophy” which, among other things, includes “defund the police.”
But Biden himself has said repeatedly that he does not support defunding the police, as he wrote in an op-ed published in USA Today on June 10. While he has said he would support shifting some funding from law enforcement to social service agencies, Biden also has talked about increasing funding for departments that agree to “implement meaningful reforms.” Biden wrote: “While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police.”
That’s a far cry from the wholesale stripping of resources from police that the Trump campaign has suggested Biden backs.
Trump also falsely said at an Aug. 7 briefing that if the Democrats took “control of Washington,” they would pass “legislation gutting every single police department in America.” He warned, “No city, no town, and no suburb would be safe. Your suburbs would be a disaster. Your cities, your towns would be a disaster.”
First of all, the Democrats couldn’t do that even if they wanted to. According to a backgrounder by the Urban Institute, 86% of police funding in 2017 was from local governments, with additional money ponied up by state governments. But they don’t want to: As we have said, Biden has said explicitly that he is against defunding the police.
In support of the president’s law-and-order campaign, the Trump administration has sent federal law enforcement agents to confront protesters, including in Washington, D.C. In June, Trump misleadingly claimed law enforcement officers “didn’t use tear gas” to disperse protesters near the White House before Trump walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church to pose for photos with a Bible.
The U.S. Park Police said officers used “pepper balls,” not “tear gas,” on protesters on June. 1. It’s true pepper balls, which contain a pepper spray-like irritant, have a different makeup than another chemical typical referred to as “tear gas” (and which USPP specifically says it didn’t use). But some sources consider pepper spray a type of tear gas, while others say both chemicals have the same effect on people. According to Scientific American and the CDC, pepper spray is a type of “tear gas” or “riot control agent.”
Bogus Voter Fraud Claims
Trump has for years made baseless claims about widespread voter fraud, claiming in 2016 and early 2017 that despite winning the Electoral College victory and the presidency in 2016, his loss in the popular vote to Hillary Clinton was the result of millions of people voting illegally.
As the 2020 election nears, Trump is again warning of massive voter fraud, but he has turned most of his attention to opposing any expansion of mail-in voting. As states have sought to expand access to mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump claimed on July 30 that this election would be the “most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history” and questioned whether the U.S. ought to “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Many of the claims underpinning his case are inaccurate, misleading or baseless.
In general, voting experts told us that while the instances of voter fraud via mail-in or absentee ballots are more common than in-person voting fraud, known cases of mail-in voting fraud are relatively rare.
Trump has repeatedly drawn a false distinction between mail-in and absentee ballots — as he did most recently on Aug. 21 — claiming the former are rife with fraud while the latter require a voter to go through “a very strict process.” Voting experts told us the verification process is the same for absentee and mail-in ballots, and many states consider them to be the same thing.
Indeed, 34 states and Washington, D.C., have “no excuse” absentee or mail-in voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in those states do not need to attest that they will be out of the voting jurisdiction on Election Day, or unable to vote in person because of an illness or disability. In these states, there is no special process that “absentee” voters go through that other mail-in voters do not. One of those states is Florida, where Trump voted by mail-in ballot in the primary election in the spring.
Trump has taken particular issue with states, including California, that will send out ballots or ballot applications to registered voters. In May, Trump falsely claimed that California will send mail-in ballots to “anyone living in the state,” including “people that aren’t citizens.”
Trump also falsely said that California agreed that “a million people should not have voted” in the state. That claim is based on an estimate of inactive voters on the state’s registered voter rolls. No one alleged or provided any proof that any of those people actually voted, fraudulently or otherwise.
Trump has repeatedly warned about foreign interference, specifically that “MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES,” resulting in a “RIGGED” election. Voting experts told us that there are numerous logistical hurdles, such as reproducing ballots in multiple jurisdictions, and security safeguards, such as bar codes and signature checks, that would prevent a foreign government from slipping large numbers of fraudulent ballots past election officials. Those safeguards make such a plan highly unlikely to result in fraudulent votes being cast, experts say, and certainly not enough to sway a presidential election.
As for Trump’s comment about possibly delaying the election, as we have written, Trump has no authority to do that — only Congress can.
Trump has frequently distorted immigration proposals by Biden and his allies, including a 110-page document with policy recommendations from a unity task force made up of supporters of Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Enforcement: In remarks in the White House Rose Garden on July 14, for example, Trump falsely claimed that Biden wants to “abolish immigration detention”; “stop all deportation,” including the removal of violent gang members; and “end prosecution of illegal border crossers.” In an Aug. 18 speech in Arizona, Trump again distorted Biden’s immigration plans, saying “the Biden-Bernie manifesto” will “abolish immigration enforcement” and “[f]ree all illegal aliens from federal detention and close detention facilities.”
Contrary to what Trump said, the task force recommendations say that detention of people who immigrated illegally should be used as a “last resort, not the default,” and the immigration plan on Biden’s campaign website says he would end “prolonged detention” and end for-profit detention centers only.
Biden also said in a March Democratic primary debate that, for the first 100 days of his presidency, he would halt the removal of individuals already in the country, deporting only those who had committed felonies thereafter.
And while the task force suggests scrapping the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, it still recommends focusing on prosecuting “human traffickers, smugglers” and other serious criminals. In another Democratic primary debate in July 2019, Biden said himself that illegal immigration is a crime.
Benefits: Trump, in the same White House remarks, misleadingly claimed that Biden wants “federal student aid,” “free community college,” “welfare” and “government health care for illegal aliens.” In Arizona, Trump escalated his rhetoric, warning that the promise of “free education” and “free health care” would “unleash a flood of illegal immigration” to the U.S.
Biden hasn’t proposed offering federal student aid and free community college to all who came to the U.S. illegally. His education plan says he’d make “Dreamers” eligible for federal financial aid, if they meet other requirements, and up to two years of free tuition at community colleges. Dreamers are a special category of U.S. residents who were brought to the country illegally as children by their parents.
Biden also isn’t pushing “to give free, taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants,” as the Trump campaign website states. Biden has said that, unlike current law, his plan would allow immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization to “buy into the system,” referring to the Affordable Care Act. The task force similarly “recommends extending Affordable Care Act coverage to DACA recipients, [and] allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase unsubsidized coverage in the ACA marketplaces.”
Finally, Biden isn’t offering blanket “welfare” to those who immigrate to the U.S. legally or illegally. The task force suggests lifting the five-year waiting period for low-income immigrants with lawful status to become eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, specifically. And Biden has proposed reversing the Trump administration’s “public charge rule,” which permits immigration officials to deny admission or a status change to immigrants who are “likely at any time to become a public charge” — meaning receive public assistance. Biden’s plan on “securing our values as a nation of immigrants,” says the rule “undermines America’s character as land of opportunity that is open and welcoming to all, not just the wealthy.”
In an appeal to suburban voters, particularly housewives, Trump has taken to saying he has eliminated an Obama administration rule that he wrongly suggests forced the construction of low-income housing in the suburbs.
For instance, on Aug. 18, in his remarks on the anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, Trump said: “Look, I view it very strongly that the suburban voter, the suburban housewife, women and men living in the suburbs — they want security and they want safety. … They don’t want to have their American Dream fulfilled and then have a low-income housing project built right next to their house or in the neighborhood. They don’t want it. That’s not part of the deal. And I terminated that.”
Experts told us the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2015 final rule on “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” — which current HUD Secretary Ben Carson has announced will be terminated — didn’t mandate low-income housing or rezoning.
The rule actually said it “does not impose any land use decisions or zoning laws on any local government.” It established a more structured reporting process by which all jurisdictions that receive funding from HUD would use HUD-provided data and tools to develop a plan to address fair housing issues in their communities. (The rule was intended to reinforce a clause of the 1968 Fair Housing Act that prohibits discrimination in housing.)
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