Update: Trump repeated this false claim on Wednesday night during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "So we're 5-0 in special elections," he said. "5-0. 5-0." Some had thought the fifth victory Trump was referring to Tuesday night was his own; now we know that's not the case. He's simply overstating the GOP's special election record, which is 4-1.
President Trump has made at least 669 false or misleading claims through his first five months in office. But on Tuesday night, there was no need to stretch the truth — no need to put a better face on what was already a big special election win for the Republican Party.
Trump did it anyway, whether wittingly or not.
Here's what Trump tweeted after Karen Handel won the special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.
So Trump claimed the GOP was 5-0 in special elections. This is just not true. And I struggle to even think of the justification for it.
In fact, there have been five special congressional elections in 2017, but Democrats won one of them — in California's heavily, heavily Democratic 34th District, where former congressman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) was appointed California attorney general and state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez succeeded him. That race basically got no national attention and only one little-known Republican ran in the open primary (he didn't even make the “top two"), but it was a special election. And it got about as much national investment from the underdog party as South Carolina's 5th District did on Tuesday (which is to say: about zero).
Even if you allow for the idea that Trump was only referring to contested special elections, though, we're still only talking about "4 and O,” not "5 and O”: Georgia's 6th, South Carolina's 5th, Kansas's 4th District and Montana's at-large district.
There was one other race this year that got some national attention and investment from Democrats. It was the Omaha mayor's race last month, where Bernie Sanders-backed Democrat Heath Mello against the incumbent mayor. But that wasn't a special election; it was a regular one. And there have also been mayoral races in Los Angeles, San Antonio, St. Louis and Jackson, Miss. Democrats won three of them; and independent won the other one.
Maybe Trump was referring to the first round of voting in Georgia back in April, when Republicans took 51 percent of the vote and Democrats took 49 percent? But that wasn't a separate special election, and Democrat Jon Ossoff actually finished first that day.
Some have suggested Trump is including his own win on Nov. 8. Which may have been his intention, but it wasn't a special election. And if he was including his own win that day, why wouldn't he also include the 435 House races and 34 Senate races that were also on the ballot?)
I'm being a bit of a pedant here, admittedly. But Trump has a demonstrated history of inflating his victories using either false or misleading stats. There was that time he was called out at a news conference for wrongly claiming he got the most electoral votes since Ronald Reagan. (“I don’t know. I was given that information. I actually, I’ve seen that information around,” Trump responded told NBC News. “But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?”) He has repeatedly called his win a “landslide,” despite losing the popular vote and winning the 13th-smallest electoral vote share out of 58 presidential elections. And he has repeatedly claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election — somehow all of them for Hillary Clinton — and deprived him of that popular-vote win.
So we've been here before, and it's worth correcting the record. Facts matter. And you can call this False Claim No. 670.
Incidentally, Donald Trump Jr. was a little closer to the truth in his tweet about an hour before his dad on Tuesday night, claiming the Democrats went 0-4 in special elections. It was still wrong, but perhaps more understandable given California got basically no attention.
The lesson: Do not go to the Trumps for your electoral statistics.