President Trump at the White House on Tuesday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

I received an email Monday evening from the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a fundraising vehicle for President Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican Party.

The point of the email, you will not be surprised to learn, was fundraising, though that request was couched in a pseudo-poll that asked me if I believed that “wide-open borders threaten our safety.” It looked as if there was an actual poll in the email, but it was just a picture of a poll, and when you click it, you’re directed to the campaign’s website and its “Official 2020 Democratic Candidate Platform Survey.”

This is a totally legit survey, as evidenced by the box at top left reading “For Official Use Only” and including an official-looking survey ID number. Oddly, the survey ID on the website didn’t match the survey ID in my email. It’s almost as though this isn’t a real information-collecting system? But we’ll come back to that.

First, though, let’s consider the presentation that leads the email. It outlines the “2020 strategy” that has been unveiled by Democratic candidates in recent weeks.


(Trump Make America Great Again Committee)

It’s true that, as the email says, the presented list of “main talking points” isn’t a joke. Instead, it’s a lie.

There are no “main talking points” for 2020 candidates, because they all have different, if overlapping, platforms. Trump’s campaign presents this as a sort of unified view of the party’s position, which would be the equivalent of saying that in August 2015 Trump himself held the same policy positions as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

More generally, though, no Democratic candidate holds all of these positions. In fact, basically none of the candidates holds any of them.

“90% proposed tax rate”: During the entire presidency of (Republican) Dwight Eisenhower, the top marginal tax rate was over 90 percent. As discussion about raising the current top rate has unfolded, this historical fact has been noted as a demonstration of how the economy can fare well despite such a high top tax rate.

No Democratic candidate proposes anything close to this. The increase to 70 percent floated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) (1) isn’t 90 percent and (2) isn’t coming from a 2020 candidate. What’s more, it’s not a 70 percent “proposed tax rate.” It’s a proposed marginal tax rate, meaning, in Ocasio-Cortez’s framing, that it would apply only to those earning more than $10 million a year and only to income accrued after that first $10 million.

“Wide-open borders”: Trump likes to conflate “no wall” with “no border security,” which is obviously untrue. There exists wall on hundreds of miles of the border, and there are monitoring systems on much of the rest. Just because there isn’t a wall on a stretch of the border doesn’t mean it is “wide open” to immigration.

What’s more, even Trump has said that natural barriers will obviate the need for a wall on every mile of the border. Does that mean that he supports “wide-open borders”?

“Full-term abortion”: A proposed bill in the Virginia legislature would have removed some restrictions on allowing abortion up until the point of birth in circumstances where the mother’s life was at risk. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) made the controversial proposal more politically toxic by suggesting that even nonviable babies that had been delivered would be allowed to die.

This was seized upon by Republicans, who pushed for a vote in the Senate that they hoped would force Democrats — many of whom are running for president — to take a position on the issue. The bill would have punished doctors who didn’t try to aid babies born after attempted abortions. A number of medical groups opposed the bill, saying it “represents a dangerous government intrusion into private health-care decisions.”

While some Democratic candidates likely support late-term abortions under certain circumstances, none have endorsed “full-term abortion.”

“Ripping away 2nd Amendment rights”: The Democratic candidates broadly support new laws that increase background checks and bans on certain types of weapons. None has challenged the Second Amendment itself. This is a line that is often blurred in the gun debate, with the National Rifle Association in recent years intentionally framing new gun restrictions as inherently opposed to the amendment. That’s clearly the campaign’s goal.

“Government-run healthcare”: Here, we’re closer to the mark. Many prominent 2020 Democrats support Medicare-for-all, which would expand the Medicare program to cover all Americans — essentially having the government manage much of the health-care system. (Many Trump voters, of course, already have coverage under Medicare.)

This is different, though, from a “single-payer” system, where one entity (here, the government) absorbs the entirety of the cost of health care. Medicare currently includes a role for private insurers. Many Democrats support a coexisting private insurance system under a more sweeping federal health-care coverage program.

“Full-blown socialism”: No Democratic candidate, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), endorses “full-blown socialism.” No Democratic candidate comes close to endorsing full-blown socialism. No Democratic candidate identifies as a socialist.

These “talking points” are the subject of that online poll to which the fake-email-poll points. It’s 10 questions, including things like “Do you believe full blown Socialism would destroy everything our country stands for?” The final question asks respondents “[i]s there anything else you’d like to mention about the radical left-wing agenda of Democratic Presidential Candidates?”

But the next-to-last question is funnier.


(Trump Make America Great Again Committee) (Philip Bump/(Trump Make America Great Again Committee))

Why not just have a final “250 to 268” option? Anyway, once you’ve finished the survey, having invested all that time in expressing how mad you are about the radical Democratic agenda, the campaign asks if you might chip in a bit to ensure that Trump and other Republicans win. That, of course, was always the end game.

Trump’s candidacy was born of the feverish, far-right rhetoric of conservative media. His loyalty to questionable narratives and arguments presented in the media he was reading helped him build a passionate, loyal base of support among people who heard and accepted the same arguments.

It’s not new for a politician to exaggerate his opponents’ positions, much less to use fake nonsense polls to lure people into cracking open their wallets. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a presentation of an opponents’ positions as openly dishonest and alarmist as this one, though.

I chose not to express those thoughts in the survey, however.