There’s been an intense focus on fact-checking in the 2016 presidential race lately, and whether or not the truth can be reasserted effectively in what’s becoming what some refer to as a “post-truth” election.
This focus on fact-checking sharpened considerably in the run-up to Monday night’s first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York ― so much so that the debate’s moderator, NBC News’ Lester Holt, found himself drowning in demands that he serve as an able-bodied avatar for truth and justice.
But whether or not a robust, real-time fact-check was even possible, it was clear after the dust had settled that verification would have likely added another 90 minutes to the proceedings, as there ended up being a flurry of disputable claims that needed to be sifted and sorted through after it was all over.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republican nominee Donald Trump offered up the lion’s share of falsehoods and disprovable claims. But a deeper analysis of the evening revealed that his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, largely avoided the same fate by keeping her answers rooted in airy principles and generalized policy ideas, conveniently devoid of factual claims. She tends to indicate a policy target and stress the importance of hitting it, rather than endeavoring to “show the work” of how that can be achieved.
Trump, on the other hand, wants to actively create the mirror image of a debate performance that’s long on facts and figures ― it’s just that those “facts” are often anything but.
If the brash businessmen would forego repeating previously debunked claims and well-publicized lies, he might cut down on the number of demonstrably false things he says. But Monday was not that day. In this first debate, teleprompter-free Trump returned to some of his classics.
It’s hard to imagine what could bring about a change in tactics from the orange-tinted boy King. But if it’s this edition of debate fact-check that does the trick, then we’ll let you know.
In the meanwhile, here’s our official compendium of incorrection and misdirection ― spanning glib pronouncements that don’t tell the whole truth, statements that avoid the truth entirely and instances in which Trump didn’t even know what he didn’t know.
Trump: “Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico.”
The truth is mixed: The Los Angeles Times’ Matalie Kitroeff reports that Mexico’s manufacturing boom isn’t having an entirely deleterious effect on American jobs:
U.S. manufacturing production, it turns out, is rising as well. Factory output has nearly reached its all-time high this year, and is up more than 30% since 2009.
Partly thanks to automation, factory jobs are still way off from their peak of more than 19 million in 1979. But they have been climbing slowly since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. Over the last six years, U.S. manufacturers hired 744,000 new workers, an uptick of 6%.
Trump: “Under my plan, I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That’s going to be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.”
Not really! According to the Tax Foundation, enacting this plan would be enormously bad:
If fully enacted, the proposal would reduce federal revenue by $4.4 trillion over the next decade on a static basis under the higher-rate assumption, or $5.9 trillion under the lower-rate assumption (Table 4). The plan would reduce individual income tax revenue by $2.2 trillion over the next decade under the higher-rate assumption, or $3.7 trillion under the lower-rate assumption.
Trump: “Ford is leaving, you see that. Their small car division — thousands of jobs, leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”
Wrong: Ford signed a deal with the major car workers union, the United Auto Workers, and has pledged that the smaller cars being made in Mexico will have no effect on U.S. workers. The workers now making the small cars will transition to making big cars for Ford.
Trump: “Thousands of jobs are leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”
Not true: The unemployment rate in these two states is 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. The national rate is 4.9 percent.
Trump: “My father gave me a very small loan in 1975.”
Counter-claim: Clinton said Trump’s loan was for $14 million.
The reality: The actual figures are hard to track, because his father, Fred Trump, divided some $20 million between his kids in his will and set up additional trusts. But more importantly, Trump inherited his father’s entire business and before his death, he traded on his dad’s connections to win all sorts of breaks and favors. As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported, “Trump’s father — whose name had been besmirched in New York real estate circles after investigations into windfall profits and other abuses in his real estate projects — was an essential silent partner in Trump’s initiative. In effect, the son was the front man, relying on his father’s connections and wealth, while his Fred Trump stood silently in the background to avoid drawing attention to himself.”
Additionally, when Trump’s casino business went belly up, his father stepped in with an illegal $3.35 million bailout ― financed through casino chips.
Trump: “The wealthy are going create tremendous jobs. They’re going to expand their companies. They’re going to do a tremendous job.”
Wrong: Rich people tend to hang on to their money and invest it. The people who spend money, and who drive the economy, buy goods from small businesses and create jobs, are the middle class and the working poor.
Clinton: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.” Trump replied, “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.”
Trump: “The Obama administration, from the time they’ve come in, is over 230 years’ worth of debt, and he’s topped it. He’s doubled it in a course of almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, to be semi- exact.”
[Concord Coalition executive director Robert] Bixby; Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; and Rudolph Penner, a fellow at the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, told us:
1. About half of the $19 trillion was amassed before Obama took office in January 2009.
2. Obama took office amid a deep recession, which meant government revenues fell and spending on government programs rose.
“The debt would have exploded certainly during (Obama’s) first term, no matter who was president,” said Bixby.
3. Obama proposed federal budgets, but Congress, including the Republican leadership, ultimately holds the purse strings.
“Attributing the debt to a president doesn’t make sense,” MacGuineas said.
Trump: “See, you’re telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you’ve been fighting ― no wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”
Not so much: Clinton is 68 years old. The ISIS, or the self-styled Islamic State, began in 2014.
Clinton: “When I was secretary of state, we actually increased American exports globally 30 percent.”
Not the whole truth: Clinton is taking credit for the Obama administration’s gains through April of 2016. She left the State Department after Obama won re-election.
More to the point, however, these gains are paltry when you consider the context of the Obama administration’s goal, which was to “double our exports” between 2010 and 2015. When Factcheck.org examined the numbers in July of 2016, it reported: “Lately, exports actually have been shrinking as the economies of China and other U.S. trading partners struggle. First-quarter exports were down 1.8 percent from the previous quarter, and were 5.3 percent below the same period a year earlier.”
Trump: “You called [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] the gold standard of trade deals. You said it was the finest deal you’ve ever seen.”
Yeah, she did call it that: In remarks at TechPort Australia in November of 2012, Clinton said: “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”
Trump: “Our country is suffering because people like Secretary Clinton have made such bad decisions in terms of our jobs and in terms of what is going on. Now look, we have the worst revival of an economy since the Great Depression.”
Not really: Trump would have been on safe ground if he’d mentioned gross domestic product, not jobs. As far as employment goes, the current recovery is not the best, but it’s not the worst. Per NPR’s Scott Horsley:
Private sector employers have added 15.1 million jobs since the trough of the recession in 2010. Unemployment, which peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, has fallen to 4.9 percent. Unemployment among African-Americans, which peaked at 16.8 percent in March 2010, has fallen to 8.1 percent. And unemployment among African-American young people is not 58 percent as Trump claimed, but 26.1 percent.
For comparison: Jobs per year was strongest under Bill Clinton (2.8 million), followed by Carter (2.6 million), Reagan (2 million), Obama (1.3 million as of January), H.W. Bush (659,000), and W. Bush (160,000).
Trump: “This Janet Yellen of the Fed, the Fed is doing political by keeping interest rates at this level.”
No proof: This is an accusation for which no evidence has been provided as The Associated Press has noted. Yellen has consistently pooh-poohed this notion. For what it’s worth, Trump has previously averred, “I’m not a person that thinks Janet Yellen is doing a bad job. I happen to be a low-interest rate person unless inflation rears its ugly head, which can happen at some point.”
Trump: “Lester, we have a trade deficit with all of the countries that we do business with, of almost $800 billion a year.”
Wrong: Per Neil Irwin of The New York Times: “He has the number wrong. The United States trade deficit was about $500 billion in 2015, and is on track for a similar number this year. He is likely referring to the trade deficit in goods, which was $762 billion last year. But that was counteracted by a $262 billion surplus in services.”
Clinton: “You even went and suggested that you would try to negotiate down the national debt of the United States.”
True: Trump did do this. Per the Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum:
Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”
He added, “And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can’t lose.”
“Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent,” Appelbaum writes.
Trump: “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African- Americans, Hispanics are living in Hell because it’s so dangerous.”
Nope: While 70 percent of black and Hispanic Americans do live in cities, those cities are a long way from Hell.
The Fair Punishment Project, a center based at Harvard Law School, pointed out that the country is “safer under President Obama than under any other President in over a half-century.”
“No year during George W. Bush’s, Bill Clinton’s, George H.W. Bush’s or Ronald Reagan’s presidency was as safe as 2015,” according to a summary prepared by the project leaders. “Violent crime in the U.S. is near historic lows and the country is dramatically safer than it was 45 years ago, 25 years ago, and 10 years ago.”
Trump: Stop and frisk “worked very well, Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani is here worked very well in New York.”
False: According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, stop-and-frisk “yielded few weapons when officials justified the policy as a way to reduce shootings and recover guns; in more than 5 million stops, police recovered a gun less than 0.02 percent of the time. And as the NYPD ramped up the number of stops, shootings and murders in the city did not appear to correspondingly decline.”
On a related note, when Holt pointed out that “stop-and-frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York,” Trump went ballistic.
Trump: No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case.”
The moderator is right: Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in 2013 that stop-and-frisk violated the Fourth and 14th Amendments. Following the ruling, the city of New York filed a motion to vacate it, but the motion was denied.
On another related note, Trump seems completely unaware of how his positions come across to millions of black voters.
Trump: “I think that I’ve developed very, very good relationships over the last little while with the African-American community. I think you can see that.”
On the contrary: Despite several transparent efforts to pander to minorities, chiefly by visiting black churches, black voters aren’t buying it. Trump polled at about 3 percent among black voters this month ― a number that’s historically low.
Trump: “We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people. But I’m all for NATO.”
Wrong: The number Trump uses is three times more than the US actually pays for the cost of NATO, which is just over 22 percent of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance’s annual spending. Trump loves to take digs at NATO, the alliance responsible for the longest single stretch of peace in the United States and Europe in modern history. For Trump, it’s not about peace, or coordinated responses to global crises. It’s just that Trump hates paying for anybody else. Penny-wise here is staggeringly pound foolish.
Clinton: “I’m glad that we’re ending private prisons in the federal system.”
Not quite: As NPR’s John Burnett points out, “the Department of Homeland Security ― which has more that 70 percent of its noncitizen detainees in private prisons ― is studying the issue but has made no commitment to sever its ties to the for-profit prison industry.”
Trump: A reiteration of his claim that the Clinton campaign invented birtherism.
Ridiculous: That’s a lie. Full stop.
Trump: “I was just endorsed by ICE.”
Interesting theory: There’s no way to confirm how frozen water feels about Trump, but the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency has offered him no such endorsement. Rather, a union of ICE employees did endorse him.
Clinton: “With the larger point he says this constantly is George W. Bush made the agreement about when American troops would leave Iraq not Barack Obama. And the only way that American troops could have stayed in Iraq is to get an agreement from the then Iraqi government that would have protected our troops.”
In reality: It’s true that Bush negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement that dictated the timetable for troop withdrawals and that any modification would have had to come from the Iraqi government. But it’s a fair point to say that Obama’s hands weren’t explicitly and wholly tied, and that he could have negotiated further for a residual force. He chose not to ― critics are allowed point this out.
Clinton: “I think we have got to have an intelligence surge where we are looking for every scrap of information [related to terrorist attacks in the United States].
A glib-sounding, but not necessarily realistic solution. As the New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo points out: “the United States already collects and shares more intelligence than ever.”
The F.B.I. has been successful in arresting suspects who are in contact with terrorist figures overseas. The greater challenge for law enforcement today is often that homegrown terrorists commit no crime until an attack. And the F.B.I. is not allowed to conduct open-ended investigations without evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Nor is it allowed to collect intelligence solely related to people’s views. Admiring Osama bin Laden or the Islamic State or expressing hatred for the United States is not a crime.
Trump: “Iran is one of [North Korea’s] biggest trading partners. Iran has power over North Korea.”
Wrong: North Korea’s biggest trading partners are, in order of importance, China; South Korea; India; and the European Union.
Trump: “We are not keeping up with other countries’ [nuclear weapons]. I would like everybody to end [nuclear armament], just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.”
The terrifying reality: This is a scary one, because it’s clear that Trump doesn’t understand what Holt was asking. In theory, Obama could decide to end the United States’ decades-long position that if pressed, we would use nuclear weapons first, even against a non-nuclear nation. But even though Obama may change this policy before he leaves office, for Trump to say he “wouldn’t do first strike,” when this has been U.S. policy for decades, revealed how little the presidential hopeful knows about America’s nuclear arsenal.
Clinton: “[Trump is] someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers.”
Trump: “I never said that.”
Totally true: He definitely did.
Clinton: “Donald supported the invasion of Iraq.”
Right: This is the granddaddy of all Trump lies. We will be pointing this out for the rest of our lives.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is aserial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.