The 2020 presidential campaign largely has been overshadowed by other events, including a presidential impeachment and a worldwide pandemic. But this nasty and brutish campaign is finally coming to an end.
President Trump continues to be the king of Pinocchios, amassing 295 since May 2019, with an average rating of 3.64 Pinocchios. (That basically means he almost always received Four Pinocchios.) But former vice president Joe Biden was no slouch either, earning 51 Pinocchios with an average rating of 2.67. A number of times, Biden avoided Pinocchios by admitting error. Biden also spoke far less often than Trump, providing fewer opportunities for fact-checking.
(We also have been tracking all of Trump’s false or misleading claims doing his presidency and estimate he recently crossed the 25,000-claim threshold.)
By way of comparison, in 2016 Trump had an average rating of 3.4 Pinocchios and Hillary Clinton 2.2 Pinocchios; in 2012, Mitt Romney had an average rating of 2.4 Pinocchios, compared to 2.1 for Barack Obama. So clearly the scale of dishonesty continues to climb in presidential elections.
Here are twenty categories of lowlights during the 2020 campaign (plus one surprisingly true fact).
As in 2016, Trump repeatedly made claims that boggled the imagination. More than 10 times, he falsely suggested MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough might have murdered a congressional aide. He spoke incessantly about an imaginary — and convoluted — conspiracy theory he dubbed “Obamagate.” He frequently claimed that when he became president, the U.S. military had “no ammunition.” Over and over, he assured audiences that Mexico really was paying for his border barrier, even as he bypassed Congress and seized billions of dollars from military construction contracts to fund the wall.
Whenever Trump barnstormed in a swing state, he claimed that under his watch foreign-owned auto assembly plants had been added at an unprecedented rate in Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and elsewhere. He attributed this alleged success to his jawboning of countries such as Japan and Germany — and his threat of higher tariffs. We checked the records. No surprise. Trump was making stuff up.
Biden asserted that he had the “great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him [Nelson Mandela] on Robbens Island.” Never mind that Soweto, a township near Johannesburg, is nearly 900 miles from Robben — not Robbens — Island, which is off the coast of Cape Town. No one knew what Biden was talking about, including Andrew Young, the former ambassador. Eventually Biden explained he was separated from Black colleagues at the airport. That’s not an arrest.
Biden voted to authorize an invasion of Iraq, a vote he later regretted. During the primaries, when most of Democratic rivals leaned left, Biden started to claim he opposed the Iraq War from the “moment it started.” A review of Biden’s statements from the 2002-2003 period found that although he was certainly a critic, sometimes a farsighted one, of George W. Bush’s handling of the war effort, he did not forthrightly oppose the conflict once it started. In response to our fact check, Biden said he misspoke.
Confronted with the worst pandemic in a century, Trump tried to spin his way out of trouble. He falsely said he had saved 2.2 million people from dying from the coronavirus. He falsely accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of “dancing” in Chinatown, killing many people (in a city with relatively few deaths). He knocked Obama’s handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, though it was widely praised, and he falsely claimed Obama left zero ventilators (there were 16,660, more than enough). He touted bogus cures like hydroxychloroquine and even injecting bleach (though he later falsely said he was being sarcastic). And he falsely said 85 percent of mask wearers catch the virus — insisting it was true even after he was corrected. There many other Trumpian covid-19 claims.
Biden frequently said he called for taking action, such invoking the Defense Production Act, building hospitals or getting U.S. experts into China, as early as January. But we could only trace such statements to late February or mid-March, when the potential impact of the virus was becoming apparent to most Americans. Democrats also accused Trump of shipping to China 17 tons of American masks and medical supplies. These were donations by private charities and public companies at a time when the U.S. case count was still low.
Over and over, Trump declared he has done more for African Americans than any other president — or, he might generously concede, since Abraham Lincoln. Historians scoffed at his claim, saying that Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is clearly the recent president who had the most lasting impact on the lives of Blacks. Similarly, almost every day Trump claimed he had created the greatest economy in world history. Anyone who has read an economic history book knows that’s false.
Week after week, Trump falsely claimed he was the most popular Republican president in history. When he started making this claim, Gallup polling showed that he only placed in sixth place among GOP presidents since World War II, ahead of only Gerald Ford. After the impeachment trial, Trump got a bit of boost in approval among Republicans. But he’s still only tied for fourth place.
Trump keeps saying his daughter Ivanka created 15 million jobs. That’s a neat trick since even before the pandemic the economy only added 7 million jobs on Trump’s watch. It turns out that Ivanka had only managed to obtain nonbinding pledges of “training opportunities” — not jobs — over five years.
With the pandemic raging, many Americans were interested in using mail-in ballots. Fearing easier voting was a threat to his reelection chances, Trump spent months on a disjointed and misleading rampage about the dangers of mail-in ballots, especially in Democratic-leaning states. (Absentee ballots in GOP-leaning states apparently were okay.) A mountain of evidence shows mail voting has been almost entirely free of fraud through the decades. Yet we counted more than 200 times when Trump made false claims about mail-in balloting.
The Biden campaign asserted Trump had a “plan” to eliminate the payroll tax that funds Social Security. Trump certainly made confusing comments before he reiterated that any diversion for a payroll tax holiday would come out of general funds. But that did not stop Democrats from ginning up a letter from the chief actuary of Social Security to estimate the impact of a plan that did not exist — which the Biden campaign weaponized into a campaign ad.
The Green New Deal is a manifesto offered by left-leaning Democrats to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero over 10 years. It never went very far, except straight into GOP talking points as a plan to “eliminate all planes, cars, cows, oil, gas and the military.” (That was an actual Trump tweet.) This spin came not from the plan but a poorly-worded FAQ that was quickly withdrawn.
The Trump campaign ran lots of ads claiming Biden had policies that were the opposite of his actual proposals. No, Biden does not plan to ban fracking. He does not plan to defund police. He does not plan to eliminate charter schools. And he does not plan to raise taxes of people making less than $400,000 a year.
Trump repeatedly says he has a health-care plan ready to unveil that would replace Obamacare and protect people with preexisting conditions. But he has revealed no such plan, and every legislative and legal move he has made would have weakened protections for preexisting conditions. Trust us: Trump has no plan.
Trump insisted it wasn’t a crime when his fixer arranged hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 presidential campaign. But prosecutors charged crimes, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes, and a judge sentenced him to three years in prison. So what in the world was Trump saying? Nothing that makes sense.
The 2017 Trump tax cut rewarded mostly the rich, but just about every taxpayer saw some kind of tax cut. Democrats kept falsely saying only the rich benefited. “All of it went to folks at the top and corporations,” Biden said, without explaining why he insisted he would leave people making less than $400,000 harmless from his proposed rollback of the tax cut. His future running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), even tweeted that lower tax refunds meant Trump had imposed “a middle-class tax hike.” Nope, that was nonsense.
All political campaigns run misleading ads and we caught the Biden campaign occasionally nipping and tucking video of Trump to present a false image. But the Trump campaign set a new low in video editing, repeatedly running ads and videos designed to mislead viewers into thinking Biden had taken positions that made him some sort of lefty socialist, rather than the moderate Democrat he has been his whole career. Even Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was quoted out of context in a Trump ad — and his protests were unheeded.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump spread falsehoods as easily as their father. Eric claimed “Trump’s wall costs less than the Obamacare website.” Not only was that ridiculously false, but he thought he was quoting comedian Tim Allen when, in fact, that was a jewelry technician who lives in Franklin, Va. who was quoting Ted Nugent. The sons also both made the easily debunked claim that the Trump business empire no longer makes money from foreign deals, with Eric claiming “we got out of all international business.”
Trump was impeached over his effort to force the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden, who earned a lot of money as a board member of a Ukrainian energy company while Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine. Hunter Biden’s business dealings were probably ill-advised, but no criminal conduct was uncovered, despite constant Trump’s attacks to allege otherwise.
One of the Democrats’s go-to attacks is warning that a GOP opponent will harm Medicare, the health-care program for the poor. The Biden campaign was no exception, twisting Trump’s effort to use the courts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act into a plan to “slash Medicare benefits.” (The ACA has a modest effort to expand some benefits, but it was a relatively minor part of the law.)
Running for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claimed the Walton family makes more money in one minute than Walmart workers do in an entire year. Our initial response was: no way. But after crunching the numbers, we concluded the Walton family earns $25,149 a minute in dividends, compared to the Walmart average of $24,960 a year in pay. Not only that, but dividends are taxed at a lower rate than income.
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