Trump Tailors Exaggerations and False Claims to Election Battlegrounds

Source: By Linda Qiu, New York Times • Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2020

From lobsters in Maine to ethanol in Iowa to the oil fields of Texas, the president has tried to bolster his case for re-election by promoting localized — and factually challenged — accomplishments.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Even as President Trump’s 2020 campaign struggles under the weight of a health crisis and battered economy, he has sought to tailor familiar national themes — as well as falsehoods and exaggerations — to crucial electoral battlegrounds.

While many of Mr. Trump’s more incendiary falsehoods — his many misleading remarks about the coronavirus and his baseless attacks on election integrity — have received widespread attention, some of his more localized claims also require scrutiny. Here’s a fact check.

Industry-Specific Appeals

Mr. Trump has falsely portrayed several issues important in swing states as matters that his political enemies have ignored and that he himself has championed.

“Pres. Obama destroyed the lobster and fishing industry in Maine. Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. Enjoy your ‘lobstering’ and fishing! Make lots of money!” he falsely wrote last month on Twitter.

This was a reference to a marine sanctuary off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean established by President Barack Obama in 2016 and opened up for commercial fishing in June by Mr. Trump. Drilling and oil exploration was banned in the protected area but Mr. Obama carved out a seven-year exception for lobster and red crab fisheries, so the creation of the monument had little immediate effect on the seafood industry, let alone destroy it.

Maine’s lobster landings reported a record haul in 2016 of over 132 million pounds worth over $540 million as seas warmed by climate change created ideal conditions for the crustaceans. Hauls and exports decreased under Mr. Trump, partly because of natural fluctuations but partly because of retaliatory tariffs China imposed on seafood in 2018. Still, lobstermen caught over 100 million pounds for the ninth year in a row in 2019.

Likewise, Mr. Trump has sought to curry favor with corn farmers in Iowa and the Midwest by claiming to have “kept our promise on ethanol” and falsely charging Democrats with wanting to “wipe out, totally, Iowa ethanol.

Mr. Trump did lift a summertime ban on the use of E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, drawing praise from corn growers. But his Environmental Protection Agency has also irked farmers by continuing to issue dozens of waivers to oil refineries that allow them to bypass legal requirements to blend in ethanol.

“The Trump administration’s ethanol policy has been defined by a failed attempt to placate both oil-and-gas and ethanol producers,” said Jeffrey T. Manuel, a historian at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and author of a coming book about ethanol politics. “The Trump administration held meetings last year to resolve the oil-versus-ethanol standoff, but they were inconclusive.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s characterization of ethanol as a partisan issue, Democrats from corn-producing states are “strong supporters of policies that favor ethanol,” Mr. Manuel said. For example, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, introduced a bill that would grant relief funding to the biofuels industry hard hit by the coronavirus. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers from both chambers have written to Mr. Trump urging him to deny waiver requests. The Congressional Biofuels Caucus is led by two Democratic and two Republican House members. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign proposals include more funding for ethanol.

Similarly, Mr. Trump promised Michigan voters to help protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, a nonnative fish that pose a significant threat to the natural ecosystem and commercial fisheries of the region.

“Who would have thought that was going to happen?” he said in January during an event in the state. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers already has a plan, and we are going to get this done and ready to go.”

Contrary to his suggestion that support for tackling the invasive species problem had been slow to arrive, the Obama administration provided $40 million to $80 million each fiscal year starting in 2010 to control the Asian carp population in the Great Lakes.

While federal funding has continued under Mr. Trump to the tune of $30 millionto $45 million a year, neither the president’s 2021 budget proposal or the Corps’ own list of projects for this fiscal year included funding for its plan to construct a variety of fish barriers at a lock and dam south of Chicago.

National Boasts With a Local Spin

The president’s regional overtures can also mirror familiar campaign riffs about the economy.

Accustomed to trumpeting a national unemployment rate that had been declining for years and reached a five-decade low last year, Mr. Trump has adapted the line for audiences in particular states with varying degrees of accuracy.

He overreached when he said during a town hall event in Scranton, Pa., that the city and the state “had the lowest and best unemployment numbers” ever and when he told attendees at a rally in Phoenix that “Arizona, you’ve had the best year, the most successful year you’ve ever had in the history of the country.”

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania reached 4.1 percent in 2018, higher than the 4.0 percent rate in the first few months of 2000. In the Scranton area, it reached 4.4 percent in 2018, also higher than the 4.1 percent in September 2000. Arizona’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent January, while the recorded low was 3.6 percent in June and July 2007.

When repeating misleading claims about an energy revolution and manufacturing revitalization, Mr. Trump has specified that these turnarounds have occurred in a few states.

“We have so many plants coming into Michigan and so many other states,” he said in June during a rally in Tulsa, Okla., before tweeting days later: “I brought back Cars & Jobs. Will do it again for Michigan, & everywhere else!!!”

But there has been no sudden uptick or reversal of fortune in car manufacturing jobs or plant openings since Mr. Trump’s election.

Before the coronavirus epidemic, employment in automobile manufacturingnationwide had been steadily increasing since the economic recovery in 2009, while jobs in the sector in Michigan had also increased from mid-2009 before plateauing in recent years.

Since 2017, there have been 10 new assembly or manufacturing investments across the country, with three in Michigan totaling $30.6 million, said Kristin Dziczek, the vice president for industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research, which is based in Michigan. In the three years before Mr. Trump took office, there were 10 new automaker plant announcements, including three in Michigan totaling $1.8 billion.

The president has also taken outsize or even undue credit for trends in the oil and gas industry that precede his time in office.

At the same town hall event in Scranton, he falsely claimed to have opened up liquefied natural gas “plants in Louisiana where they were for years — for 10, 12, 14 years and longer trying to get permits, they couldn’t get permits.”

Of the seven liquefied natural gas projects in Louisiana listed in an Energy Information Administration’s database, six received permits to export under the Obama administration with wait times under two years; the seventh project requested approval in September 2016 and received it under Mr. Trump. Four applications to begin construction were approved under Mr. Obama, all in two years, while one project applied in 2015 and received approval in 2019. The other two applied under Mr. Trump and received it in three years.

An oil rig in Stanton, Texas, in April. Mr. Trump made claims that he “saved” the oil industry.
Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“I saved their oil industry,” he said in July of Texas. “I created it; we became No. 1. We have millions of jobs. And we saved it, so Texas is not going to have to let go of millions and millions of people.”

Clearly Mr. Trump did not “create” the oil industry in Texas, which experienced its first oil boom at the start of the 20th century and has been the top oil-producing state in the country every year except one since 1970. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, set off another boom in Texas in 2011, while the United States became the top producer of oil and gas in the world in 2013.

As for his claims to have “saved” Texas’s oil industry, Mr. Trump was most likely referring to his role in helping broker a deal this year between Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut production, which in turn helped bolster collapsing oil prices. Still, there is little evidence that the oil industry has recovered. In Texas, the industry has continued to shed jobs while production declined.

Over all, “the fall in U.S. oil production since March is unprecedented in the historical record, and production has not rebounded despite the Nymex futures price returning to $40 per barrel,” said Ryan Kellogg, a professor and energy economist at the University of Chicago. “New drilling, as measured by rig counts, remains depressed at levels not seen since the Great Recession. Industry jobs will not come back until drilling rebounds.”

Highlighting Federally Funded Local Projects

Mr. Trump has also emphasized investments in local infrastructure and businesses in states important to electoral success, but to varying degrees has exaggerated his role or omitted context.

“I love saying it because we are funding, for New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Army National Guard readiness centers just a few miles from here, in Pembroke and in Concord,” Mr. Trump said during a campaign rally in the state.

Those facilities were funded by annual appropriations bills that passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

He devoted 10 tweets in May to various transit projects that had received funding from the Transportation Department, five of which were in the swing states of Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But he failed to note that the projects were part of the Capital Investment Grant program, which is authorized and structured by Congress and has routinely awarded grants since the 2013 federal fiscal year. In the first two years of his presidency, Mr. Trump had a budget that called for the grants to be phased out.

At events in Wisconsin in June, Mr. Trump bragged about a nearly $800 million military contract awarded to a shipbuilding company in the state to build up to 10 guided missile frigates, claiming that it would create or support 6,000, 9,000 or 15,000 additional jobs at various points.

Those employment estimates are at odds with those from local lawmakers and the shipbuilding company itself, which range from 1,000 to 5,000.

Mr. Trump alluded to the reason that particular company was chosen: “Maneuverability is one of the big factors that you were chosen for the contract. The other is your location in Wisconsin, if you want to know the truth.”