Fact-Checking President Trump's RNC Speech

Aug 28, 2020
Originally published on August 28, 2020 8:48 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some of our colleagues were also watching last night, including NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and our senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

Good morning to you both.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: We have some analysis and some fact-checking here as well. And, Ayesha, I just want to recall - four years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump gave his first convention speech, said, I alone can fix it. Now he's running for reelection. What's the sequel?

RASCOE: In a lot of ways, he basically said that he is fixing the country. But that's a picture that does not line up with what a lot of Americans are seeing. One thing that really stood out was this line where he talked about his response to the coronavirus, which has now killed 180,000 people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts and the data. We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk, especially the elderly, while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and to school.

RASCOE: Of course, he delivered this line with more than a thousand people sitting outside not socially distanced and many without masks. Trump also said there would be a vaccine by the end of the year or maybe sooner. That is way more optimistic than current science suggests.

INSKEEP: We've already heard some of how he addressed protesting and racial justice. What was his overall message there?

RASCOE: You know, there was just a lot of talk of law and order, condemning rioters and conflating protests and riots. There was also a lot of praise for law enforcement. Here's some more on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We must remember that the overwhelming majority of police officers in this country - and that's the overwhelming majority - are noble, courageous and honorable. We have to give law enforcement, our police, back their power.

RASCOE: This is an argument that Trump has made, you know, for decades now - that police need to get tougher. And law and order's the main thrust of his reelection campaign. You know, it's - Trump is being critical of Biden for the 1994 crime bill. But at the same time, Trump himself is talking about increasing prison sentences and prosecuting people to the full extent of the law.

INSKEEP: Domenico Montanaro is still with us, and I want to ask about the president's vision for the next four years. He promised a convention of hope and optimism. I think it's fair to say that didn't happen. I don't have a really clear vision of what the president would do with four more years. But he was - there was a lot of energy put into what Joe Biden would supposedly do with those four years.

MONTANARO: Yeah - because, you know, President Trump really needs to turn this into a choice. He needs to make Biden unacceptable because for his record so far, when it comes to handling of coronavirus or race relations in the country, most people don't think he's doing a very good job at either of those. So if it's strictly about his record, he's putting himself at a disadvantage. But they also put out pretty contradictory messages about Joe Biden. They've really struggled to put some specifics against Biden's record because he's been in the public eye for almost half a century. I mean, on the one hand, they're saying Biden's a Trojan horse of the left and of Black Lives Matter but at the same time saying that he's put too many African Americans behind bars because of the crime bill. So it's kind of - which is it? - if you're watching this.

Two big attacks that were worth fact-checking last night - one we heard a lot is that Biden wants to defund the police. When they talk about that Biden had said, quote, "yes, absolutely," this wasn't about defunding the police. This was about redistributing funds to invest in social services that police are often asked to step in to do. But he actually wants to put more money into police forces (laughter), which is something that has actually, ironically, upset a lot of progressives.

Trump has also said that Biden's plan to stop coronavirus is to, quote, "shut it down." But that's not true. Biden's plan is to massively invest in testing, contact tracing along with finding a vaccine and better treatments. He was asked in an interview with ABC, if the flu and coronavirus combined this fall and the winter, would he shut it down - and - if the country's medical experts recommended that? He said if they did recommend that it was necessary, that he would do that but he was not planning on doing that because the economy needing to get open would only be able to do that if coronavirus was solved.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, can we be clear about the apparent violation of law here? We mentioned there's a 1939 law. It has been updated over the years. It limits political activity by federal employees. How, if at all, did it apply to the event last night?

RASCOE: Well, you know, other than - so President Trump and Vice President Pence are not under the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act does not apply to them. But all other federal employees, everybody that works at the White House - Cabinet secretaries, everybody that works in the administration - are not supposed to be engaging in this sort of political activity and on federal property. The White House is federal property. And there's no way that this was pulled off without workers at the White House helping them. And so that would be a violation of the Hatch Act.

INSKEEP: And the high officials, of course, who came were sitting there on federal property, engaged in political activity. So when you look back at this week - which contains several moments like this, by the way - Domenico, what did you take away?

MONTANARO: Well, look. I mean, this was all about trying to make the culture war stick to Joe Biden. You know, they wanted to make it less about Trump because he's not doing very well on coronavirus and race relations, as we noted. But people have pretty set beliefs about who both of these guys are.

And if you were looking for a plan on coronavirus, you didn't get much of one, just a promise of a fast-tracked vaccine and him taunting the virus, frankly, saying, together we will crush the virus. And they really tried to sell, overall, a version of Trump that, frankly, most Americans don't recognize or see every day - you know, that he values women, African Americans, that he's done a good job on the pandemic. That runs pretty counter to what the public is seeing on a daily basis.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro and Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks to you both.

RASCOE: Thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.