Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz goes after rival candidate Donald Trump's stance on eminent domain in this video posted by the Cruz campaign. (Ted Cruz)

“Trump bankrolled politicians to steamroll the little guy, a pattern of sleaze stretching back decades. Worse? Trump still supports eminent domain today.”

— ad by Ted Cruz campaign titled “Parking Lot,” released Feb. 11, 2016

Who knew such a wonky topic would find its way into political attacks in the Republican presidential race? An ad released this week by Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign lodged a renewed attack on Donald Trump’s support for eminent domain and alleged use of the government’s powers for private gain, to bully an elderly woman out of her home.

There are two problematic aspects of this ad: the misleading headlines that accompany the narration and the cherry-picked footage of Trump’s answers that misrepresent the context of his statements. We took a look at these two elements, the context of the ad and the actual sources of the quotes and footage the ad used.

The Facts

The case

In 1994, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a government agency, attempted to seize an elderly widow’s home. The agency tried to invoke “eminent domain,” which refers to the government’s right to acquire private property for public use.

The house was located near the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The agency wanted to turn the house and two other properties over to the Trump Organization. Trump had planned to landscape the area and build a new parking lot, with a waiting area for limousines.

The woman, Vera Coking, was in her 70s and had lived in her home for 37 years. She refused to give it up. Then, a four-year court battle ensued.

In 1998, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled in Coking’s favor, saying there was no valid public purpose for the government to seize her property. The agency was attempting to do so for private gain (Trump and his business), the court found.

Coking’s case came to represent the erosion of eminent domain, which is intended for the government to use for public gain (i.e., roads, streets and government buildings). Coking’s victory was hailed as a landmark victory in a David-vs.-Goliath fight.

Many conservatives object to eminent domain, believing it permits government overreach. The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that eminent domain could be used to condemn homes and small businesses for private development.

The ad

An earlier Cruz campaign ad attacking Trump on this issue said the developer “colluded with Atlantic City insiders to bulldoze the home of an elderly widow.” FactCheck.org found that ad misleading; Trump wanted to bulldoze the home but lost the legal case; the ad implied Coking lost her home.

This newer version of the ad still carries the bulldozing claim. There are news article quotes flashing by while the narrator says: “Trump schemed with Atlantic City government to force Coking from her home using eminent domain.” Two quotes — “Trump Convinced the State Agency” and “To Bulldoze a Widow’s Home” — are attributed to the Institute for Justice (co-counsel for Coking in the case), cited in a July 21, 2015, Newsweek article.

The actual source is an opinion column about the case, and it does carry those phrases — separately. Yet the ad falsely implies that a Newsweek article quoted the Institute for Justice saying Trump successfully convinced a state agency to bulldoze Coking’s home.

Then the ad uses cherry-picked quotes from Trump to take his defense of eminent domain out of context.

It shows a clip from “FOX News Sunday” in this manner:

Host Chris Wallace: “Do you support taking private property for private use?”

Trump: “I am for that.”

But the full exchange went like this (the section removed is in boldface):

Host Chris Wallace: “Do you support taking private property for private use?”

Trump: “If somebody has a property in the middle of a 7,000 job factory, as an example, that’s going to move into the town — but they need this one corner of this property, and it’s going to provide 7,000 jobs in a community that’s dying, of which we have many in this country, okay? I am for that.”

Another clip shows Trump saying: “Yes, we have to use the power of eminent domain.”

The clip actually comes from a seven-minute explanation of eminent domain and the Coking case during a Jan. 23, 2016, rally in Pella, Iowa. Trump responded to Cruz’s attack ad, explained that he offered Coking money to give up her home, but that he didn’t succeed. (The relevant portion begins at the 14-minute mark.)

In the speech, Trump says he supports eminent domain being used judiciously, for public projects. Interestingly, he doesn’t offer up an explanation of whether the use of eminent domain in the Coking case would have been for a private or public gain.

The full quote where the ad’s footage comes from went like this (removed section in boldface). You will see that the snippet used in the ad is actually Trump trying to summarize the message on the Keystone XL pipeline website:

“When you think about eminent domain, so if you go to the login, if you go to Keystone Pipeline [website] and the sales pitch, you’ll see a whole section on eminent domain: ‘Yes, we have to use the power of eminent domain.’ Because you’ve got to go through hundreds of private properties to get the pipeline. The only way you can do it is through eminent domain. I don’t love eminent domain, but you need it.”

Overall, Cruz’s new ad still falsely implies Trump succeeded in getting the government to seize Coking’s home. That’s not the case. Cruz’s campaign did not respond to our request for comment.

The Pinocchio Test

It’s a juicy story: Trump convinced the government to bulldoze a woman’s home and force her out of it. Trump certainly tried, but he didn’t succeed. Moreover, the Cruz campaign continues to mislead the public by not making it clear that the state Superior Court ruled in the woman’s favor, and it takes Trump’s comments out of context.

This ad is a classic example of cherry-picking video footage and quotes from news articles to craft an attack message. Other candidates, most recently evidenced by Jeb Bush, have figured out how to use the facts to attack Trump over this case and his support for eminent domain — but Cruz still appears to insist on twisting the facts to achieve the same.

We award the Cruz campaign Two Pinocchios for employing a combination of attack ad tactics that creates a misleading impression.

Two Pinocchios

 


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