Donald Trump’s campaign people send me incendiary emails every day. Most of it is just baiting to get money, but I was intrigued by one of these emails that claimed he was right about ten things that “the media” got wrong. Was Trump actually telling the truth and we missed it?
Let’s put it to the test. Here’s an excerpt from the email:
Subject: NO apologies, NO retractions, nothing.
Remember when I said the China Virus came from a Chinese lab, and the Left and their friends in the media tried to SMEAR me?
I do. And I also remember when they said I was wrong about all of the following (spoiler: I was RIGHT AGAIN):
– We did produce vaccines before the end of 2020, in record time I might add.
– Our Southern Border security program was unprecedentedly successful.
– Schools should be opened.
– Hydroxychloroquine works.
– The “Russian Bounties” story was fake.
– Hunter Biden’s laptop was real.
– Blue state lockdowns didn’t work.
– Lafayette Square was not cleared for a photo op.
– Critical Race Theory is a disaster for our schools and our Country.
So, the media was wrong – as usual – but so far, I’ve received NO apologies, NO retractions, nothing.
I know YOU always believed in me and will ALWAYS stand with me, which is why I’m calling on you now to step up and publicly show your support.
Please contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to make a statement to the Left that you’ll ALWAYS stand with YOUR President. >>
OK, let’s take these claims one by one and evaluate them.
The China Virus came from a Chinese Lab
Putting aside the appropriateness of calling COVID-19 “The China Virus,” did it originate in a lab?
In May of 2020, when asked if he had seen evidence that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Trump said “Yes, I have. Yes, I have.”
The consensus now is that it is at least possible, but not proven, that a leak from a lab caused the COVID outbreak. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Intelligence showed that three staff at the Wuhan lab were sick in November 2019, before the first reported cases in the general population in China.
According to the science journal Nature, “it’s suspicious that, almost a year and a half into the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2’s closest relative still hasn’t been found in an animal,” and “Another feature of SARS-CoV-2 that has drawn attention is a combination of nucleotides that underlie a segment of the furin cleavage site: CGG (these encode the amino acid arginine). . . . David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate and professor emeritus at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, [said] that viruses don’t usually have that particular code for arginine, but humans often do — a ‘smoking gun’, hinting that researchers might have tampered with SARS-CoV-2’s genome.”
Biden’s national security staff now says “We continue to have serious questions about the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, including its origins within the People’s Republic of China.”
So was Trump right about this? Possibly. The reports ridiculing his statements now seem to have been premature.
We did produce vaccines before the end of 2020, in record time I might add.
In March of 2020, Trump said that the vaccine could be ready in three or four months. This seemed impossible, and it was. It did not account for the significant time needed for testing for safety and efficacy.
However, the conventional wisdom that the vaccine would take at least 18 months was wrong, too.
Because of the novel nature of mRNA vaccine technology — a new way of making vaccines effective — it was possible for companies like Moderna and BioNTech to synthesize a vaccine rapidly once its genetic sequence was known.
Trump was still too optimistic. And there’s still the question of “we” — Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” didn’t fund the Pfizer vaccine, for example.
But Trump was right, and much of the conventional media was wrong, that coronavirus vaccines would be available to many before the end of 2020.
Our Southern Border security program was unprecedentedly successful.
Trump’s border security program, which thwarted asylum seekers and separated children from their families, was extremely cruel. And his “border fence” covered far less of the border than would be needed to be very effective, with only 15 miles of new barrier and 350 miles of replacement barrier.
But did these policies work?
Here’s a chart of migrant encounters (apprehensions and explusions) at the southern border, from Pew:
The chart includes a massive peak in May of 2019 and a low in April of 2020. It’s certainly not clear evidence of a policy that’s working.
Migrant encounters with families and unaccompanied minors now make up 47% of encounters, as compared to 73% in 2019. And migration from Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) makes up 45% of encounters, as compared to 78% previously.
Did Trump’s policies have an impact? Apparently, they did. Were they “unprecedentedly successful?” That’s a stretch, given the evidence.
Schools should be opened.
This is a matter of opinion, not fact.
Given the susceptibility of children to the Delta Variant, opening schools may be a disaster.
At the time Trump said this, prior to fall of 2020, opening schools could have easily led to far more virus spread.
According to the CDC, “Significant secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection has occurred in school settings when prevention strategies are not implemented or are not followed. In Israel, prior to vaccine introduction, a school was closed less than two weeks after reopening when two symptomatic students attended in-person learning, leading to 153 infections among students and 25 among staff members, from among 1,161 students and 151 staff members that were tested. . . . Although outbreaks in schools can occur, multiple studies have shown that transmission within school settings is typically lower than – or at least similar to – levels of community transmission, when prevention strategies are in place in schools.”
At this point, reopening schools without significant mitigation (masks, for example), seems pretty risky. It’s certainly not a cut-and-dried fact that “schools should be opened.”
Trump’s statement was made when there was very little evidence. Now there is a lot of evidence, and the results are inconclusive. So he doesn’t get credit for guessing on this one.
The “Russian Bounties” story was fake.
The New York Times reported in June 2020 that Russian military intelligence was paying the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan, and that Trump received a briefing on it. Trump said he hadn’t been briefed because the intelligence was weak. Biden cited the reported bounties during the presidential campaign.
There was an intelligence report. So the report was not “fake.” But the intelligence was of “low to moderate confidence,” and lacked corroboration.
Hunter Biden’s laptop was real.
The circumstances under which Hunter Biden’s purported laptop was found in October of 2020 strain credulity. A computer store owner claimed someone dropped the laptop off at his shop and forgot it. But the laptop has passed through several sets of hands until reaching Rudy Giuliani, raising questions about whether material was added to it or deleted from it. Fifty former intelligence officials said it bore all the signs of Russian disinformation.
Trump did indeed cite content from the laptop during the campaign.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Holman Jenkins, Jr. has now stated on its opinion pages that the laptop is real. But the only papers reporting on the contents of the laptop are the New York Post and the Daily Mail, news outlets not known for the accuracy or care with which they vet the news.
So, is it real? Once again, I’d say that’s not proven at this point.
Blue state lockdowns didn’t work.
By October 2020, Trump was warning states to stop lockdowns.
It’s certainly clear that the lockdowns didn’t stop COVID.
But would the pandemic have been worse if there were no lockdowns? Or would longer or more stringent lockdowns have stopped it?
There’s no way to know.
While they didn’t eradicate COVID, you can’t prove that they failed to slow it down.
Lafayette Square was not cleared for a photo op
The police officers who cleared the square were not doing so to create a photo op, according to NBC. But they did accelerate their activity to keep the president safe once he decided to speak in front of the church there.
Critical Race Theory is a disaster for our schools and our Country.
No one is teaching critical race theory, a graduate-level political science debating point, in public schools.
Trump, like other conservatives, conflates the specifics of critical race theory with the general idea of teaching that America’s racist past is problematic.
Is that sort of teaching disaster? That’s a matter of opinion. But even if you think teaching about the racial problems in America is a problem, that’s not critical race theory.
Toting up the score
Here’s the score on 10 claims from the former president:
- 3 were true: vaccines in 2020, no Russian bounties on American soldiers, reason for clearing Lafayette Square
- 4 were unproven, but might be true: the lab leak theory, the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and whether lockdowns worked
- 1 was opinion, not fact: that schools should be opened
- 2 were false: that the border policy was successful, and that CRT is hurting schools
So Trump’s attempt to vindicate himself is a very mixed bag. I’ve tried to be generous here, and admittedly, the track record of these ten claims is far better than Trump’s reputation for veracity overall. But Trump credit for only three claims that the media made that turned out to be wrong.
The Washington Post tallied 30,573 lies or misleading claims by Trump during his presidency. Trump cherry-picked ten claims, and only three were mostly true.
He’s not doing better at telling the truth. He’s just being more selective in what he puts in fundraising emails.