The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Trump campaign, same old falsehoods

Former president Donald Trump announced the start of his 2024 campaign on Nov. 15. Here’s a round-up of false or misleading claims during the remarks. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump is running for president again — and he’s singing from the same hymn book of falsehoods. With few exceptions, many of the factual claims made in his announcement speech could have been plucked from a campaign-rally speech in the waning days of the 2020 election campaign — or even from his announcement speech in 2015. Here’s a guide to 19 claims he made on Tuesday night, in the order in which he made them.

“When the virus hit our shores, I took decisive action and saved lives and the U.S. economy.”

Trump did not take decisive action. For weeks, he played down the threat of a pandemic, telling reporters in February 2020 that in April the virus would “miraculously” go away.

“Importantly, after decades of rising energy costs, the United States had finally attained the impossible dream of American energy independence, which soon would have turned into energy dominance.”

This is false. Under Trump, the United States continued to import millions of barrels of oil per day, with 48 percent coming from Canada and 11 percent from Persian Gulf countries. Trump appears to be basing this statement on the fact the United States exported more crude and refined products than it imported. That’s still the case. In 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration, the United States imported about 8.47 million barrels per day of petroleum, compared to exports of 8.63 million barrels per day. But the country still relies on other countries for its energy needs.

Refiners on the Gulf Coast, for instance, have been optimized for Venezuelan crude, which has a high sulfur content. When the Trump administration put sanctions on Venezuelan petroleum, refiners started importing Russian petroleum products because they are roughly similar to U.S. petroleum products.

“China was paying billions and billions of dollars in taxes … No president had ever saw or received one dollar for our country from China until I came along.”

China is not the one paying. Tariffs are generally paid by importers, such as U.S. companies, who in turn pass on most or all of the costs to consumers or producers who may use Chinese materials in their products. So, ultimately, Americans are footing the bill for these tariffs, not the Chinese. Through the end of Trump’s presidency, the tariffs garnered about $75 billion on products from China. Biden has not removed the tariffs, so the total has now grown to $161 billion, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Contrary to Trump’s claim that “no president” had ever done this, tariffs have been collected on Chinese goods since the early days of the Republic. President George Washington signed the Tariff Act of 1789, when trade between China and the United States was already established.

“Because the border was so tight, drugs were coming into our country at the lowest level in many, many years.”

The flow of drugs over the border was not at its lowest level under Trump. Under Biden, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics, overall drug seizures have dropped, especially for marijuana, but have increased substantially for fentanyl — the drug most responsible for overdose deaths. Both the decrease in marijuana seizures and the increase in fentanyl seizures reflect trends that started under Trump.

Most drugs come into the United States across the southern border with Mexico. But a wall does not limit this illegal trade, as much of it travels through legal borders or under tunnels unaffected by any possible physical barrier. Even if the wall could curb illicit drug trafficking, it would have a minimal impact on the death toll from drug abuse.

“Gas prices have reached the highest levels in history, and expect them to go much higher now that the strategic national reserves, which I filled up, have been virtually drained to keep gasoline prices lower.”

Trump exaggerates. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve hit a high of 726 million barrels under Barack Obama and never got higher than 695 million barrels under Trump. (He did propose to add more but couldn’t get funding approved by Congress.) As of August, the latest figure available, it stood at 445 million barrels.

“Our southern border has been erased, and our country is being invaded by millions and millions of unknown people, many of whom are entering for a very bad and sinister reason.”

Trump is exaggerating how many people illegally cross the border. Moreover, most independent research contradicts the idea that illegal immigrants bring more crime. A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Criminology, led by Michael Light, a criminologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, examined whether places with higher percentages of undocumented immigrants have higher rates of violent crime such as murder or rape. The answer: States with larger shares of undocumented immigrants tended to have lower crime rates than states with smaller shares in the years 1990 through 2014. Similar results were found in another peer-reviewed study by the same researchers that looked at nonviolent crime, such as drug arrests and driving under the influence (DUI) arrests.

“We lost lives, left Americans behind and surrendered $85 billion worth of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”

Trump falsely claims United States left behind $85 billion of weapons during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. We have previously given this claim Three Pinocchios, as it is ridiculously high. The $85 billion number reflects all spending appropriated for Afghanistan Security Forces since the U.S. invasion in 2001. But even that is high; a smaller figure, $75 billion, actually had been disbursed. Moreover, a 2017 government report estimated that about 29 percent of the funds spent on the Afghan security forces between 2005 and 2016 went to equipment and transportation. The exact figure of equipment left behind is unknown. Given the passage of time, however, some of this equipment may be obsolete or have been destroyed — or may not be usable, given the shortage of maintenance crews.

“They say the ocean will rise one eighth of an inch over the next two hundred to three hundred years.”

Trump greatly minimizes how climate change is expected to affect global mean sea levels. Global mean sea level already has risen about eight to nine inches since 1880; as of 2021, it is 3.8 inches above 1993 levels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the current pace, the global sea level will be one foot higher by the end of this century.

“We had practically, just about, not that I can think of, no Islamic attacks, terrorist attacks during the Trump administration.”

Trump is wrong. On Dec. 6, 2019, a Saudi military student, Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, went on a shooting rampage at a Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla., killing three people and wounding 13. Attorney General William P. Barr said the attack was “an act of terrorism” motivated by “jihadist ideology.” Al-Shamrani had visited the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and posted a message on social media on the anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks stating that “the countdown has started.”

“We actually got it [inflation] to exactly one percent. The perfect number one thing every economist agrees don’t have it. You have it like at one percent. They would say one to two. But I said, let’s do one. And we had it at one percent and we had it there for a long period of time …. Inflation was nonexistent.”

This is not correct. During the Trump presidency, annual inflation generally was a little higher or lower than 2 percent a year. A president generally has little control over inflation, while the Federal Reserve only has crude tools, such as raising interest rates, to affect it. Whether the Fed acted fast enough to combat inflation — or whether Biden’s covid relief package exacerbated inflation — is still under debate. Trump appointed the current Fed chairman. After the pandemic, inflation soared in most countries around the world, and Trump likely would have faced a similar rise in prices.

“The socialist disaster known as the Green New Deal, which is destroying our country, and the many crippling regulations that it has spawned, will be immediately terminated.”

The Green New Deal, a sweeping environmental plan proposed by liberals, was never enacted. Biden opposed the Green New Deal though he has enacted some climate-change legislation.

“But one of the reasons we had so much success at the border was because of the fact that we got Mexico to give us free of charge 28,000 soldiers.”

No Mexican troops were given “free of charge” to the United States. Mexico deployed 26,000 soldiers, split between the U.S. border and Mexico’s southern border, to stem illegal immigration from central American countries.

“Under the Barack Hussein Obama administration, they were unable to take them out because their country is where they came from, wouldn’t take them. And I learned about that. And my first day I actually say what I learned about it. And I said, which countries? And it was Honduras and Guatemala. It was El Salvador, some others. And I said, How much do we pay them, sir? You pay them $750 million a year. It’s a lot of money. I said, all right, stop payment. We’re not paying them anymore because they wouldn’t accept them … And I get a call the next morning from the presidents of every country that are talking about. Sir, there seems to be a misunderstanding. What’s the problem? Is ... there anything we can do?”

Trump often fabricates conversations in which he stuns various heads of state with his knowledge or negotiating skills and they bend to his will. His claim that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras “wouldn’t take” deportees before the Trump administration is flat-out false. The three countries accepted hundreds of thousands of returnees from the United States every year, before Trump’s term, official statistics show. From 2013 to 2018, such deportations totaled 550,186. In fact, the Obama administration prioritized the deportations of gang members and individuals with criminal records. Trump, upon taking office, scrapped that priority list and allowed officials to prioritize nonviolent immigration offenders over violent ones.

“Businesses were pouring back because of our historic tax and regulation cuts, the biggest in both categories in history, bigger even than what Ronald Reagan was able to produce. And he produced a lot.”

Neither of these claims is correct.

Trump’s claim about tax cuts was his second favorite falsehood during his presidency; his remarks at his departure ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base marked the 296th time he said it. Even before Trump’s tax cut was crafted, he promised it would be the biggest in U.S. history — bigger than Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Reagan’s tax cut amounted to 2.9 percent of the gross domestic product and none of the proposals under consideration came close to that level. Yet Trump persisted in this fiction even when the tax cut was eventually crafted to be the equivalent of 0.9 percent of GDP, making it the eighth largest tax cut in 100 years.

As for regulations, there is no reliable metric on which to judge this claim — or to compare Trump to previous presidents. Many experts say the most significant regulatory changes in U.S. history were the deregulation of airline, rail and trucking industries during the Carter administration, which are estimated to provide consumers with $70 billion in annual benefits. A detailed November 2020 report by the Penn Program on Regulation concluded that “without exception, each major claim we have uncovered by the President or other White House official about regulation turns out to be exaggerated, misleading, or downright untrue.” The report said that Trump Administration had not reduced the overall number of pages from the regulatory code book, and it completed far more regulatory actions than deregulatory ones once the full data are examined.

“I made big promises to the American people. And unlike other presidents, I kept my promises.”

Despite his bravado, Trump broke many of his campaign promises. According to The Washington Post Trump Promise Tracker, Trump kept less than one-third of 60 key promises he announced during the 2016 campaign — and he broke half of them.

“Every drug dealer during his or her life on average will kill 500 people with the drugs they sell, not to mention the destruction of families.”

As we have documented, this is a dubious figure that makes little sense. About 600,000 people died of drug overdoses from 2010 to 2020, according to the National Institutes of Health. Doing the math, Trump’s statistic would suggest that there are only 1,200 drug dealers in the United States. But the federal government prosecutes nearly 20,000 drug traffickers a year.

“I rebuilt our entire military, which nobody talks about. When I got there, we had jet fighters that were forty eight years old. We had bombers that was 60 years old. We had bombers where their grandfathers flew them when they were new. And now the grandchild is flying the bomber, but not anymore.”

Trump often falsely claims he's “totally rebuilt” the U.S. military. As for the bomber, Trump appears to be referring to the B-52 Stratofortress bomber, built during the Kennedy Administration, which are receiving upgrades could keep the remaining fleet of Cold War bombers going until 2050. But Trump errs in suggesting that he is replacing the B-52 or ordered new planes to replace it. The Obama administration pushed forward with a new bomber, the B21, which will function alongside the B-52.

“I said, why didn’t you raid Bush’s place? Why didn’t you raid Clinton? Thirty two thousand emails. Why didn’t you raid Clinton’s place? Why didn’t you do? Obama took a lot of things with him.”

Trump is under investigation for taking classified documents from the White House to his home in Florida, rather than turn than over the National Archives as required by law. When Trump began suggesting his actions were no different than previous president, the Archives issued a statement saying he was wrong. “All such temporary facilities [for previous president records] met strict archival and security standards, and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees,” the statement said. “Reports that indicate or imply that those Presidential records were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office, or that the records were housed in substandard conditions, are false and misleading.”

“I will ask for a permanent ban on taxpayer funding of campaigns. A lifetime ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and Cabinet. No, I see what they make. They leave the White House or they leave Congress. They’re paid millions and millions and millions of dollars a year. Now you have to have a ban.”

Trump talks a good game on restricting lobbying by former officials. But with hours left in his term, Trump rescinded the executive order he had signed on Jan. 28, 2017 that had limited federal administration officials from lobbying the government or working for foreign countries after they leave their posts, undoing one of the few measures he had instituted to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

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