Closing Arguments of the Presidential Campaign
By Lori Robertson, Eugene Kiely, D'Angelo Gore, Robert Farley, Jessica McDonald and Rem Rieder
Posted on November 3, 2020
After months of campaigning, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made their final pitches to voters at campaign rallies in key swing states and on TV airwaves.
Trump Campaign TV Ads
The Trump campaign has spent $10.5 million on TV and digital ads in the final week of the campaign, according to data collected by Advertising Analytics. The campaign is still spending heavily on misleading ads attacking Biden on taxes, health care and protests for racial justice.
Taxes. Since Oct. 29, the campaign has spent nearly $1 million on an ad that shows Biden, in February, saying, “if you elect me, your taxes are going to be raised, not cut.” Then it shows Biden, in October, saying, “And here’s how it works. I’m going to raise taxes.” But in neither case was he talking about raising taxes for everyone.
Biden has pledged not to directly raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year. The most recent estimate by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center on Oct. 15 calculates that the net result of all of Biden’s tax proposals in 2022 would be, on average, a tax cut for the bottom 80% of households, with the top one-tenth of 1% of earners bearing 70% of Biden’s proposed tax increases.
Health insurance. In recent days, more than $4 million has been spent on a Republican National Committee/Trump ad that claims “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ government-run health care plan” could “give benefits to illegal immigrants.” But Biden doesn’t support the Medicare for All plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden, in addition to private health insurance, has proposed offering a Medicare-style public option only as a choice. The ad cites a conservative think tank’s argument that a public option would lead to a government health care system, but that’s not what Biden has proposed. He has also said immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be able to buy health insurance plans, not get them for free.
Violent protests. In addition, the Trump campaign has spent more than $400,000 to run an ad that says, “While America’s cities burned, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris fan the flames, refusing to strongly condemn violence, supporting bail funds that helped let rioters, looters and dangerous criminals out of jail.”
But Biden and Harris both have condemned violent protests, riots and looting. As early as late May, for example, Biden issued a widely reported statement saying: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not. Violence that guts and shutters businesses that serve the community is not. The act of protesting should never be allowed to overshadow the reason we protest. It should not drive people away from the just cause that protest is meant to advance.”
And, to be clear, in June, Harris asked the public to contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to specifically “help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota.” She did not mention “rioters, looters and dangerous criminals” — some of whom were also aided by the nonprofit.
Biden Campaign TV Ads
The Biden campaign has spent nearly $50 million on TV and digital ads in the final week of the campaign, according to data collected by Advertising Analytics. But there are not a lot of facts to check in Biden’s ads.
The campaign of the Democratic presidential nominee is running largely positive ads about Biden’s character and ads designed to increase voter turnout. There have been numerous ads telling voters how to cast ballots in key swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.
The issues covered in the Biden campaign ads include COVID-19, health insurance, the economy, Social Security, taxes and racial injustice.
One ad that has been in heavy rotation leaves the false impression that Trump has a plan to “wipe out Social Security in just three years.” The campaign has spent $7.1 million on the ad since Sept. 25, including nearly $1.9 million in the last seven days.
“The Social Security Administration just released a report saying that if a plan like the one Trump is proposing goes into effect, the Social Security trust fund will be, and I quote, ‘permanently depleted by the middle of calendar year 2023,’” Biden says in the ad, which also displays text on the screen that says, “Trump’s Plan would wipe out Social Security in just three years.”
But Trump has no such plan, as we have written before — including elsewhere in this article.
The campaign also has spent more than $8 million in the last month on a TV ad called “Gets It Done” that among other things says Biden’s economic plan “raises wages by as much as $15,000 a year.” It’s not clear in the ad, but that pay raise applies to a subset of workers. And it would not reach that level for years even for them.
The campaign tells us Biden’s support for a $15 minimum wage would translate into a $15,000 a year increase for full-time employees working 40 hours per week at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
But there are caveats to that $15,000 pay raise. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently have higher minimum wage rates than the federal rate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Also, Biden hasn’t provided details on his plan, but the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill last year that would phase in the increase over six years. That could mean Biden’s $15 minimum would not take effect until 2027.
Trump Campaign Rally Claims
Auto plants. Trump made several false claims about how the auto industry in Michigan fared both before and after he took office. The fact is, Michigan has lost motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs under Trump, even before the coronavirus pandemic caused economic shutdowns. Those jobs declined by 2,400 during Trump’s time in office through February, and they’ve dropped by another 15,800 since.
General Motors built a light vehicle assembly plant in Lansing Delta Township, completed in 2006, the company’s “newest plant” in the country, it says, and the most recent light vehicle assembly plant built in the state prior to 2017, as we’ve written. But in a Nov. 1 rally, Trump falsely told Michiganders that “no new [auto] plants had been built in Michigan in decades and decades before I got here.”
He wrongly claimed that “we brought back your car industry. Your car industry was finished. You would’ve had nothing left.” Automaker investments in the state were higher during the last three years under the Obama administration than they have been under Trump, as we’ve explained. The value of investments dropped 29% under Trump, according to data provided by the independent Center for Automotive Research.
Trump also repeated a tale involving former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and an announcement of “five companies moving to Michigan from Japan.” As we’ve written, there have been five new investments by Japanese automakers in Michigan, but only one of them is a manufacturing facility, announced just 10 days after Trump took office. Honda and GM announced the joint venture to produce hydrogen fuel cell systems.
Ethanol. Campaigning in Dubuque, Iowa, Trump falsely claimed that “if Biden gets in you can forget about ethanol, you can forget about everything. You would have that terminated.” Biden’s campaign website states: “From day one, President Biden will use every tool at his disposal, including the federal fleet and the federal government’s purchasing power, to promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels.” The Washington Post noted that Biden made the promise to promote ethanol over the objections of some environmentalists.
COVID-19 vaccine. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the day before the election, the president exaggerated the timeline for a coronavirus vaccine. “We will mass distribute the vaccine in just a few short weeks,” Trump said. “It will quickly eradicate the virus and wipe out the China plague once and for all. Joe Biden is promising to delay the vaccine and turn America into a prison state.”
It’s not clear when a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready, assuming one or more candidates are found to be safe and effective in phase 3 clinical trials. But the most optimistic estimates do not include distributing a vaccine in a few weeks — and certainly not at a scale that would end the pandemic.
The leading U.S. candidate in terms of speed is Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine. The company, however, has said that because the Food and Drug Administration is seeking to have two months of safety data on at least half of the trial participants, it doesn’t plan to even submit its application for an emergency use authorization to the agency until the third week of November.
The FDA would then have to review the application and make a decision before distribution could begin. That also assumes the results are positive, which is not guaranteed.
Even if the Pfizer vaccine receives authorization before December, it would not mean a speedy end to the pandemic. Only a limited number of doses will be available to start — prioritized for those at highest risk — and it is likely to take well into 2021 for most Americans to be vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Oct. 27 that “it will be easily by the end of 2021, and perhaps even into the next year, before we start having some semblances of normality.”
Trump, who once said he thought a vaccine was probable in October and has repeatedly claimed a vaccine is coming to the masses soon, also misleads by saying that the shots will “quickly eradicate the virus.” As we’ve explained, even with a vaccine, the coronavirus will not necessarily disappear completely, as it is likely to stick around, cropping up seasonally in a more mild form.
The president is also wrong that Biden “is promising to delay the vaccine.” Biden has expressed concerns about the vaccine approval process being transparent, but has said he would listen to scientists and that he wants a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible. “If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it,” he said in September. “If it cost me the election I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now.”
Looting. Trump falsely claimed that Biden “doesn’t even want to condemn” “rioters, looters, arsonists” following the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia on Oct. 26. In fact, the day after the shooting, Biden put out a statement in which he condemned violent responses. “No amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence,” Biden stated. “Attacking police officers and vandalizing small businesses, which are already struggling during a pandemic, does not bend the moral arc of the universe closer to justice. It hurts our fellow citizens. Looting is not a protest, it is a crime. It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short.”
Biden made similar comments after he voted in Wilmington on Oct. 28, when a reporter asked him about the situation in Philadelphia. Biden responded, “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence, none whatsoever. I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate, totally reasonable. But I think that the looting is just, as the victim’s father said, ‘Do not do this. It’s not what my son … You’re not helping, you’re hurting. You’re not helping my son.’”
‘Rounding the turn.’ In speeches in Michigan and North Carolina, the president repeated the false notion that the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on the COVID-19 pandemic. On the contrary, data from the COVID Tracking Project show that new daily cases are at a record high, and hospitalizations and deaths are on the upswing. Public health officials also dispute Trump’s assessment, with the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, telling the Washington Post on Oct. 30 that America “could not possibly be positioned more poorly” as temperatures drop and more people spend time together indoors.
Fauci. As the crowd in Opa-locka, Florida, chanted, “Fire Fauci!” — referring to a lead member of the Trump administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force who has criticized the president’s mixed messages on wearing masks — Trump said that might happen “a little bit after the election.” Trump then misleadingly claimed Fauci has “been wrong on a lot,” noting that Fauci said, “Do not, under any circumstances, wear a mask.”
As we have reported, in the early months of 2020, Fauci did tell the general public not to wear face masks because he was concerned it could lead to a shortage of masks for health care workers. However, as health officials learned more about the virus, and how often it was being transmitted by asymptomatic carriers, Fauci and other White House health officials reversed course in early April and began recommending people wear masks in public when socially distancing is difficult. “Anybody who has been listening to me over the last several months knows that a conversation does not go by where I do not strongly recommend that people wear masks,” Fauci said in an interview on Sept. 30.
Man of the year. Trump repeated an old chestnut: that he “got Man of the Year in Michigan, 12 years ago.” There’s no evidence for that. As we’ve written, it appears Trump is referring to a 2013 dinner hosted by a county Republican Party organization, which presented him with token gifts, not an award.
Economy. Trump falsely claimed that prior to the pandemic the U.S. “had the greatest economy in the history of the world.” The economy has grown faster under other presidents — and so have jobs.
He also claimed that after what he called “the plague,” the economy has rebounded: “So, we got it going,” he said in Michigan, pointing to a record annual gross domestic product growth rate of 33.1% in the third quarter. In Iowa, he called it “a super V” recovery and claimed, “We’re all set.” But as we’ve explained, the GDP figures show an economy still far from fully recovered.
Private insurance. The president falsely claimed in Iowa that the Biden ticket “will eliminate the private health insurance plans of 180 million Americans.” Biden doesn’t support such a plan. Instead, he has proposed building on the Affordable Care Act by increasing subsidies to buy private insurance and adding a Medicare-like public option as a choice.
Immigrants. Biden hasn’t “pledged … free health care for illegal aliens,” no matter how many times Trump says it. Biden has said those who are now in the country illegally should be able to buy insurance, without any subsidies — not get it for “free” — on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, as we’ve written before.
2 million ‘saved’ lives. As he has before, Trump referenced an Imperial College London report to claim that he saved 2 million American lives from the coronavirus. “Remember the model? It said 2.2 million people would die,” Trump said in North Carolina. “Well, we saved 2 million people by acting quickly.” He repeated the claim in Iowa. That distorts what the March report said. The projection of 2.2 million American deaths was not meant to be a realistic estimate of what the losses would be, but rather a kind of worst case scenario in which people did not change their behaviors and no mitigation measures whatsoever were taken.
Fracking. Trump suggested Biden would eliminate fracking, saying in Michigan: “’Will not frack!’ You know, he said that for a year, and then when he came to Pennsylvania, goes like, ‘Oh yeah, I guess it’s okay.’ No, no, there won’t be energy.” Biden’s plan calls for prohibiting permits for new oil and gas drilling on federal land and waters. That would allow fracking to continue under existing permits and in nonfederal areas — where the vast majority of U.S. oil and natural gas is produced, as we’ve said.
Suburbs. In both Michigan and Iowa, Trump claimed he “got rid of the regulation that will ruin the suburbs,” or “destroy” them. he’s referring to ending a Department of Housing and Urban Development 2015 rule on fair housing. But experts told us the rule didn’t mandate low-income housing or rezoning, as Trump previously has claimed or suggested. The rule changed the way jurisdictions that receive HUD funding develop and report plans to address fair housing issues in their communities.
Guns. Trump falsely told North Carolinians and Floridians that Biden and Harris “want to take away your guns” or “confiscate your guns.” Not so. Biden called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for ammunition. He said he wouldn’t confiscate the affected assault weapons that had already been purchased legally.
China tariffs. Trump repeated false claims about tariffs he placed on goods imported from China, telling North Carolinians “we’ve taken in tens of billions of dollars a year first time ever with China; we never took in 25 cents.” The U.S. has collected billions in customs duties on Chinese imports for years. The amount did increase greatly under Trump’s trade war.
In Iowa, the president boasted of giving $28 billion to farmers hurt by that trade war, claiming that China “paid for it, you didn’t pay.” As we’ve explained, the tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers in the form of customs duties, and to some extent by U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices. A Government Accountability Office report put the 2018/2019 total paid to farmers because of trade disruptions at $23.1 billion.
COVID-19 lockdowns. Trump incorrectly said at multiple rallies that certain Democratic states were still closed due to the pandemic and suggested — without evidence — that states would announce reopenings the day after the election. He also falsely claimed that Biden is “all about lockdowns.”
“And by the way, tell your governor to open up North Carolina,” Trump said in Hickory, North Carolina. “It’s time. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. They’ll probably announce it on November 4th.”
North Carolina is not under a lockdown. Given concerning indicators that the coronavirus was picking up steam, Gov. Roy Cooper paused reopening on Oct. 21. The pause left the state in phase 3 for three more weeks rather than moving to phase 4 — and allows many businesses, including movie theaters, amusement parks and bars, to operate, but with capacity limits in place.
“The Biden Plan is to imprison you in your home,” Trump similarly said to supporters in Macomb County, Michigan, adding, “that’s what you’re going through right now with this governor.”
That’s a gross exaggeration of the situation in the Wolverine state, which lifted its stay-at-home order on June 1 and is, like most states, in the process of reopening. Following a rise in coronavirus cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved a portion of the state back from phase 5 to phase 4 on Oct. 29, which imposes more restrictions, such as capacity limits in restaurants, but is hardly equivalent to home imprisonment.
As we’ve written, Biden said in an ABC News interview that he would follow scientists’ advice if they recommended shutting down again, but later clarified that he does not think such action will be necessary.
Puerto Rico pharma. As he has before, Trump exaggerated Biden’s role in the loss of pharmaceutical jobs in Puerto Rico. Trump said, “And we’re returning the pharmaceutical industry back to Puerto Rico. You know, Biden is the one that took it out.”
In 1996, Biden, then a senator, joined all of the Democrats who voted and a majority of Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time, in approving a wide-ranging bill focused largely on small businesses. As we have written, it is true that the legislation, in an effort to limit “corporate welfare,” phased out a tax exemption for companies manufacturing products in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. Loss of the exemption did impel many pharmaceutical companies to move their operations off of the island. But the island’s drug manufacturing industry has not been shut down. According to the Food and Drug Administration, in 2016 about 30% of Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product consisted of drug and medical device manufacturing, and 8% of U.S. pharmaceutical expenditures were for products manufactured in Puerto Rico. The island is home to 49 pharmaceutical plants, according to the Puerto Rican government. Biden was hardly “the one that took it out.” And Trump did not focus on the issue until late in his term as the election approached.
‘Super predators.’ Trump wrongly said in Michigan that Biden “openly called young black men ‘super predators.’” He repeated the claim in North Carolina. There is no record of the former vice president using the term, which Hillary Clinton uttered in 1996 about some “gangs of kids” in support of the 1994 crime bill.
Travel restrictions. In two North Carolina rallies, the president repeated his claim that Biden was against Trump’s travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, saying in Fayetteville that Biden is “on record all over the place, knocking me two and a half months later for closing too soon and closing it all. He said, ‘Don’t close. He’s xenophobic.’” There is no record of Biden saying, “Don’t close.” In fact, Biden’s campaign said on April 3 that the former vice president supported the travel restrictions. Biden did use the word “xenophobic” to describe Trump on the day the travel restrictions from China were announced, but it’s not clear whether he was alluding to the restrictions. Biden’s campaign has said the “reference to xenophobia” wasn’t about the travel restrictions but rather “Trump’s long record of scapegoating others.”
ISIS. In Florida, Trump, as he often does, embellished his administration’s record on dealing with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and falsely portrayed the performance of the Obama administration. Trump said, “We obliterated 100% of the ISIS caliphate and it was a mess. Let me tell you, when I took over, it was a mess. It was all over the place. It’s gone, 100%.” As we have written, according to figures provided by Trump’s own administration, about half of the territory held by ISIS had been regained under President Barack Obama.
Border security. The president wrongly said in North Carolina that Biden is “talking about taking down the wall. Can you believe? ‘Let’s take down the wall and let everybody pour into our country.’ He wants to take down.” Biden hasn’t said that. He has said he would end funding for Trump’s project, but hasn’t said he would tear down what has been built. “I’m going to make sure that we have border protection, but it’s going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry — that’s where all the bad stuff is happening,” Biden said in an interview on Aug. 5.
Biden Campaign Rally Claims
Meadows on the pandemic. At a drive-in rally in Philadelphia, Biden mischaracterized what White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said about the Trump administration and COVID-19. Biden said, “His chief of staff last week said, ‘We’re going to do nothing about the virus. It’s here.’” But Meadows didn’t say the administration was going to “do nothing.” He told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”
Social Security. Biden said of Trump, “His actuary at Social Security, fulltime at the Social Security Administration, says if Donald Trump’s plan, were he to be reelected, gets put in place, it will bankrupt Social Security by 2023.” But that is not the case. As we have written, the actuary analyzed “hypothetical legislation” that would eliminate the payroll tax that funds Social Security — not a proposal from Trump. The president has said he won’t cut benefits.
It’s true that Trump has said on multiple occasions that, if reelected, he would look at “ending” or “terminating the payroll tax.” But White House and Trump campaign officials have said the president actually wants to forgive a four-month payroll tax holiday he authorized in August via executive action. Trump himself has said: “[W]hen I win the election, I’m going to completely and totally forgive all deferred payroll taxes without in any way, shape or form hurting Social Security. That money is going to come from the general fund.”
Trump’s Muslim ‘ban.’ At a campaign event in Philadelphia, Biden falsely stated that Trump “put a ban on all Muslims coming to the United States.” As we have written, even Trump’s original executive order, which applied to seven countries with heavily Muslim populations, would have affected about 12% of the world’s Muslim population, according to the Pew Research Center. A subsequent ban applied to two fewer countries. However, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump did advocate a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Preexisting conditions. Biden again said that if the Affordable Care Act were nullified by the courts — an action Trump supports — “100 million Americans will lose their protections for preexisting conditions including 5 million of you here in Pennsylvania.” It’s true that all Americans would lose the ACA’s expanded protections, which prohibit insurers in all markets from denying coverage or charging more based on health status. The 100 million figure is an estimate of how many Americans not on Medicare or Medicaid have preexisting conditions. But how those individuals would be affected by an ACA repeal depends on where they get insurance.
Only those seeking coverage on the individual or nongroup market would immediately be at risk of being denied insurance. Even without the ACA, employer plans couldn’t deny issuing a policy — and could only decline coverage for some preexisting conditions for a limited period if a new employee had a lapse in coverage.
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Swing State Watch is an occasional series about false and misleading political messages in key states that will help decide the 2020 presidential election.
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