Fact-checking President Donald Trump’s false campaign claims

As Trump seeks re-election, his speeches are full of half-true grievances, made-up problems and exaggerated claims.

Donald Trump opens 2020 RNC
President Donald Trump opens the first day of the Republican National Convention with a speech peppered with falsehoods and distortions [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

President Donald Trump closed the Republican National Convention with a 70-minute speech at the White House in Washington, DC, that was full of half-truths, exaggerated claims and outright falsehoods.

Here are eight of the president’s latest suspect assertions as Trump campaigns for re-election in November:

Biden will shut down for COVID-19

Claim: Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden wants to shut down the US economy.

“Instead of following the science, Joe Biden wants to inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country. His shutdown would inflict unthinkable and lasting harm on our nation’s children, families, and citizens of all backgrounds,” Trump said in his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican convention event at the White House on August 27.

Fact: No one knows what the pandemic will look like in January 2021, although experts fear there could be a second wave of coronavirus infections. Biden has publicly said he would only shut down the nation’s economy if scientists and public health advisers recommend he do so. In other words, he said he would follow the science, not disregard it.

In an ABC News interview on August 23, Biden said he would be “prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives”.

“I would listen to the scientists,” the former vice president said.

Donald Trump RNC speech at WH
President Donald Trump issued a barrage of distortions and falsehoods in his August 27 Republican nomination acceptance delivered at the White House [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

US has low fatality rate

Claim: Trump says the US has one of the lowest COVID-19 fatality rates of any country.

“The United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country anywhere in the world. The European Union’s case fatality rate is nearly three times higher than ours,” Trump said in his convention speech.

Fact: Trump is using questionable statistical comparisons between countries to suggest the US is somehow doing better than others in handling the virus.

The US sits right in the middle when it comes to COVID-19 mortality rates in the 20 nations most impacted by the pandemic, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Of the top 20, Mexico has the highest mortality rate at 10.8 deaths for every 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases, followed by Ecuador at 5.8. Saudi Arabia had the lowest rate of the 20 nations at 1.2. The US is 10th lowest of the top 20 nations, with a mortality rate of 3.1.

When Johns Hopkins University looked at the data another way, analysing the COVID-19 death rate for every 100,000 residents, the US fares worse. Only three nations – Brazil, Chile and Peru – posted higher death rates.

Many factors are at play in shaping death toll numbers besides how well a country responded to the pandemic, such as the overall health or youth of national populations and the rate of testing to confirm actual COVID-19 cases.

US has most advanced testing

Claim: The US has a superior testing system for COVID-19.

“We developed from scratch the largest and most advanced testing system anywhere in the world. America has tested more than every country in Europe, put together, and more than every nation in the Western Hemisphere combined,” Trump said. “Think of that: we’ve conducted 40 million more tests, than the next closest nation, which is India.”

This is a dubious claim. The US repeatedly stumbled with testing in the early weeks of the outbreak, as the virus spread. Government experts say the US is still nowhere near the level of testing needed to control the virus.

Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently testified that health officials are still working to significantly increase testing capacity, calling such expansion a “critical underpinning of our response”.

The US currently is conducting nearly 750,000 tests a day, far short of what many public health experts say is needed to control the spread of the virus. Some experts have called for four million or more tests daily, while a group assembled by Harvard University estimated that 20 million a day would be needed to keep the virus in check.

Worse, frequent shortages of testing capacity spurred the CDC to quietly issue new guidance on testing on August 24 to reduce demand. While in the early months of the outbreak Trump repeatedly insisted that “anybody” who wants a test can get a test (which was not accurate), Redfield issued a statement this week saying that, “Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test.”

Mail-in ballots

Claims: Democrats are trying to rig the 2020 election by sending out millions of mail-in ballots.

“With this whole 80 million mail-in ballots that they’re working on. Sending them out to people that didn’t ask for ’em. They didn’t ask. They just get them. And it’s not fair and it’s not right. And it’s not going to be possible to tabulate, in my opinion, it’s just my opinion. We have to be very, very careful. and you have to watch, every one of you, you have to watch,” Trump said in a speech opening the Republican National Convention on August 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fact: Voting by mail is already widely available in 30 US states governed by Republicans and Democrats. Safety concerns about the risk of coronavirus infection, especially for older voters and people with health conditions, are the impetus for greater use of mail ballots. There is no evidence that use of mail ballots, when properly handled using modern procedures, results in fraud. Further, there is effectively no distinction between voting by mail and “absentee” voting, which is common in all states.

voting by mail ballot usps
Trump’s claim that Democrats are trying to steal the election by bulk mailing ballots to 80 million voters is false [Nati Harnik/AP Photo]

Pandemic response

Claim: Trump’s White House task force has done an “incredible job” battling the coronavirus.

“If we didn’t shut it down at that point, we would have had millions of people dead, millions of people. You see the numbers. The job that Mike Pence and the task force, and all of us together have done has been incredible, what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved,” Trump said on Monday.

Fact: Trump initially ignored and downplayed the risk of the coronavirus and did not shut down the US economy. It was US business leaders and state governors who first issued decisions to shut down. Trump subsequently urged early reopenings despite recommendations of public health authorities. The total US death toll exceeds 177,000, the highest in the world, and continues to climb as the infection resurges in what experts warn is close to a worst-case scenario.

Obama, Biden Spying on Trump

Claim: Obama, Biden “spied on my campaign” and got caught.

“I watched, President Obama last night and I watched him talking about everything and I had to put it out. I said, ‘yeah but he spied on my campaign and he got caught.’ You know that’s about as bad a thing as you can imagine. If that happened to another campaign on the other side, they would have 25 people in jail for many years already, many many years. It’s a disgrace,” Trump said in a campaign speech in Old Forge, Pennsylvania, on August 20.

Fact: Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden did not initiate or direct the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, which several government reviews have concluded was fully justified. A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Trump get elected. Both the Senate investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe found Trump welcomed Russia’s help and sought to coordinate with WikiLeaks through Roger Stone on the release of stolen Democratic emails, something Trump has denied.

DOJ IG Michael Horowitz
While Trump has long insisted his campaign was spied on, the US Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz informed Congress there’s no evidence the FBI spied on Trump’s campaign [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

Biden, Democrats are anti-religion

Claim: Democrats took the word “God” out of the US Pledge of Allegiance recited at the Democratic National Convention.

“I can promise you a few things. Number one, we will not be taking the word ‘God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance, OK. Like they did a number of times at their caucuses so … they took the word ‘God’ out. I heard it. I was listening. I said, ‘Isn’t that strange.’ It was sort of weird. You’ve heard it all your life, right. Under God, under God,” Trump said in Charlotte.

Fact: Trump is facing an erosion of support among evangelical voters in the US and is distorting what happened at the Democratic National Convention in order to falsely portray Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democratic Party as anti-religious. During each of the four nights of live streaming of the Democratic convention, the traditional Pledge of Allegiance was recited using the phrase “under God”. In two smaller assemblies of the Muslim Delegates and Allies and the LGBTQ Caucus, that were not part of the main programme, the phrase was left out. Some Americans who do not practise religion believe the pledge may be recited without reference to God. Joe Biden is a practising Catholic and attends church on Sundays regularly.

Protecting Americans health insurance

Claim: Republicans are protecting American’s right to health insurance for pre-existing conditions.

“So, we protected your pre-existing conditions, very strongly protected pre-exist. And you don’t hear that, but we’ve very strongly protected your pre-existing conditions. So, we got rid of the horrible individual mandate which cost everybody a fortune. And we strongly protected, every Republican is sworn to protecting your pre-existing conditions. It’s very important. You won’t hear that. You won’t hear that from the fake news,” Trump said Monday.

Fact: This claim is false. Under Trump, Republican majorities in Congress repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act passed during former President Barack Obama’s administration which prevents health insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions. The Trump Justice Department is challenging the constitutionality of the law, known as “Obamacare”, in federal court.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies