Even in a midterm marked by misinformation, conspiracy theories and false or misleading attacks, nobody does it like Donald Trump.
The former president, in a burst of campaigning for Republican candidates while he readies his own third bid for the White House, is honing a stump speech based around juxtaposing current conditions with those during his presidency — a contrast he heightens by misrepresenting and exaggerating on both ends. His speech Thursday at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, contained at least 58 false or misleading statements, and he added at least another 24 distinct falsehoods at a Saturday speech in Latrobe, Pa., according to a Washington Post analysis.
Many of the inaccuracies were repeat offenses for Trump and consistent with his exhaustively documented record of dispensing with the truth. But lately his speeches have also become a clearinghouse for the vast array of rumors, memes and myths that spread in right-wing media and fill up many other Republicans’ campaign speeches and ads.
For his part, Trump indicated he’s fully aware of how many of his statements haven’t stood up to fact-checking. “If I say anything that’s slightly wrong, they’ll challenge what I say,” he said of the press at the Iowa rally.
The Post provided Trump’s team with a full list of the inaccurate statements and requested any additional substantiation. After the requested amount of time to review, spokesman Taylor Budowich did not dispute any specific items in the analysis.
“The Left is failing in every way imaginable, so The Washington Post is clearly and desperately trying to run interference with some sham fact check,” he said in a statement. “It’s embarrassing, but unsurprising.”
At Trump’s signature rallies this summer and fall, the barrage of misinformation begins before the former president takes the stage. Attendees filing in to take their seats have been routinely met with a prepackaged video quoting Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and others falsely suggesting that the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection was the fault of the FBI or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), rather than a riot of Trump supporters encouraged by the former president.
Trump’s speeches have lately returned to his roots with a heavy emphasis on immigration and the border, syncing up with the focus of many Republican ads this cycle.
“It was just revealed that this September set yet another all-time record high in illegal border crossings, with a quarter of a million illegal alien migrants trespassing,” Trump said in Iowa. In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported apprehending 227,000 migrants in September, but it wasn’t a record: The tallies in May and April were higher. Trump predicted illegal crossings would rise to 10 million, which would more than quadruple the 2.4 million reported in the last fiscal year.
The government’s figures are for people who were caught, whereas Trump’s speech made it sound like they were succeeding in entering the country. “Biden and the radical Democrats do nothing at all to stop the death and devastation caused by this invasion into our country,” Trump said.
His account of immigration then became his basis for describing a crime wave sweeping the nation, transitioning to another core Republican campaign theme. He rattled off a series of heinous crimes allegedly committed by people who were not authorized to be in the country.
Details of the incidents were embellished. A man stabbed in a crowded hotel room became left for dead at the scene. The suspect in a Pennsylvania stabbing has not been identified as an unauthorized immigrant. A man recently sentenced for stabbing a New York cop and shooting two others in fact did so in 2020, when Trump was president.
Stories about “an innocent 41-year-old father” shot “in the head at point blank range” and “large packs of sadistic criminals and thieves … allowed to go into stores and openly rob them, beat up their workers, kill their customers, and leave with armloads of goods but with no retribution” could not be found.
Trump then branched out into street crime more generally, conjuring up an out-of-control, dangerous world. “You can’t walk down a sidewalk in Chicago,” Trump said in Iowa. “Get hit over the head with a baseball bat from behind.” Chicago police have said shootings and killings are lower in 2022 than the preceding two years.
Crime did rise nationally during 2020, Trump’s last year in office, but more recent national data was not available. Even with recent increases, violent crime remains a third or more lower than the high rates of the early 1990s, according to FBI statistics. Perceptions of crime, however, have risen, driven by a jump among Republicans.
Trump played into those fears, falsely suggesting that crime is at record levels. “Nobody’s ever seen anything like what’s happening now,” he said. In Pennsylvania on Saturday, he specified that crime in that state had surged to record levels, a claim that is not supported by FBI data.
In addition to Chicago, Trump also singled out New York, by way of attacking the state’s attorney general, who has accused his company of financial fraud. Trump calls the attorney general, Letitia James, “racist” and “Peekaboo” without explanation and faults her for presiding over “murders, robberies, rape and drugs at levels never seen.” The most recent statewide data, from 2021, show rapes and robberies were up in New York but not at record highs.
In addition to blaming crime on immigrants, Trump faulted lack of support for police. “If a policeman speaks a little bit loudly, he loses his family, he loses his house, he loses his pension,” Trump said. He also described people whose “lives would be destroyed for the mere mention of the words law enforcement.” No evidence of this happening could be found.
Trump also railed against drug cartels, saying in both speeches that their revenue has skyrocketed by 2,500 percent to $13 billion, an estimate that appears to come from a retired Texas police officer in a podcast interview with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions on immigration. He also claimed drug dealers kill an average of 500 Americans, which appears to be a reduction from his own earlier estimates in the thousands that could not be substantiated.
Trump has called for executing drug dealers, saying he drew inspiration from the criminal systems in China and Singapore, which have authoritarian governments. When he repeated that demand in Pennsylvania on Saturday, the crowd applauded.
Turning to inflation and the economy — to round out Republicans’ third common campaign theme — Trump exaggerated price increases for bacon, ham, Thanksgiving turkeys and airfare. He falsely warned of an imminent diesel shortage, which relies on a misrepresentation of industry stockpiles.
“We are a nation whose economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin,” Trump said in both speeches.
In Trump’s telling, all the reversals of fortune since he left office trace to his biggest lie of all. “The election was rigged and stolen and now our country is being destroyed,” he said. In both speeches, Trump falsely claimed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.” In fact, in a case brought by the Republican National Committee, the court said undated mail-in ballots should not be counted, even if they arrive before Election Day. Dozens of other Republican legal challenges to the results of the 2020 election were thrown out by the courts, often by judges appointed by Trump.
Trump broadened his false claim to include other states, perhaps referring to post-election audits, which failed to prove the results were fraudulent, or a Wisconsin court decision eliminating ballot drop boxes. “Wisconsin, so many states are now finding it,” he said in Iowa. “This thing was rigged.”
Trump also blamed his defeat on “the censorship of the Biden family corruption story,” a reference to a social media network’s suppression of a New York Post story before the election about files allegedly from Hunter Biden’s laptop. In Trump’s version of events, “The FBI went to Facebook and they said, ‘Oh, this is Russian disinfo, don’t do anything.’ ”
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a recent podcast interview that the FBI warned Facebook officials about Russian propaganda in general but not the Biden story specifically. Still, the suggestion that the government — under the Trump administration — forced companies to censor the story has become a widespread right-wing talking point and a likely target for congressional investigators if Republicans win the House.
Trump further claimed that the suppression of the laptop story cost him “17 points” in the election. It’s not clear where he derived this estimate.
In Pennsylvania, Trump falsely suggested that right-wing activists Catherine Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips were being jailed for finding fraud in the 2020 election. Their allegations about ballot-stuffing, portrayed in the movie “2,000 Mules,” have been widely discredited, and they were in fact jailed for contempt of court after refusing to identify an alleged informant. Trump also repeated the falsehood that Jan. 6 defendants have been treated differently than other people charged with crimes and that no one was prosecuted for the unrest in the summer of 2020. There have been more than 300 federal prosecutions related to the 2020 protests.
Trump’s ongoing lies about the 2020 election have raised concerns among some Republican operatives that he could be discouraging his supporters from voting, as many blame him for doing in the Georgia Senate runoffs won by Democrats in 2021. In the Iowa and Pennsylvania speeches, Trump repeated his call for his supporters to vote in person on Election Day, falsely suggesting it was more secure. The instruction could complicate Republican get-out-the-vote efforts and lead some voters to miss the chance to cast their ballot if they get stuck in line or can’t make it to the polls Tuesday.
Trump did not address the break-in at Pelosi’s house in which a man who posted right-wing conspiracy theories online has been charged with attacking her husband. Nor did he alter his standard speech, which vows, “We’re going to end crazy Nancy Pelosi’s political career.” In an earlier radio interview, Trump gave credence to a false conspiracy theory that the attack wasn’t really a break-in.
Trump’s speeches concluded with a summation of his case that everything was better when he was president and a promise to return to that former glory. “We are not going to allow this horror to continue,” Trump said at both rallies. “Two years ago, we were a great nation, and we will soon be a great nation again.”
For many of his fans in the crowd, that message was exactly what they came to hear.
“Everything was good when he was in,” Marvin Berger of Sheldon, Iowa, said before Thursday’s speech. “Now everything’s turned to s—.”
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In speeches, Trump uses dozens of lies, exaggerations to draw contrast with Biden – The Washington Post