Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Trump's speech at CPAC 2024 was packed with lies, indicating he knowingly deceives his MAGA crowds because he assumes they won't use critical thinking

Trump wraps up an intimate moment with the U.S. flag at CPAC

 Part One

Do you struggle to listen to a Donald Trump speech? I do, and it's been that way for several years. The problem starts, I think, when you recognize up front that Trump never will be considered to have a Winston Churchill-style intellect, so you set the bar low -- and he still manages to dig a hole underneath it. 

After reporting on his recent speech at the CPAC convention for conservative activists, I think I gained some insight into Trump's problem -- or maybe it was my problem. Even by Trump's standards, the CPAC 2024 speech was a real stinker, with little in the way of meaningful content to keep your attention. But then, I noticed a trend: Trump tends to give his worst speeches when his audience is what you might call "the hometown crowd" -- as it was at CPAC. On those occasions, Trump's oratory is not so much a speech but a string of slogans, mindlessly thrown against the wall to push the emotions, and the hot buttons, of MAGA devotees. No wonder I didn't get Trump's speeches; I wasn't a member of the club, so he wasn't speaking to me. I don't live "inside the tent," so he probably did not care that he failed to reach me.

My conclusion? Trump doesn't try to bring newcomers into the tent, so he probably doesn't care if someone like me zones out a few minutes after hearing him speak. His goal, it seems, is to fire up the base, and he probably is convinced that will carry him to victory in November. I'm not sure he's right about that, but I am sure he doesn't care what people like me think. If you aren't "loyal" to Trump right off the bat, then you aren't worth his attention. I'm not sure that is a smart way to run a campaign or a country -- especially when you are seeking to be president for all Americans. But Republicans have bought into the Trump Way, so that's what we are going to receive for the next eight months or so.

As for the CPAC 2024 speech, I wasn't the only one who found it lacking. CNN presented its own critique under the headline "Fact check: Trump delivers another lie-filled CPAC speech." How's that for getting to the point? Something tells me they didn't much care for the speech. Here are some specifics:

The Conservative Political Action Conference has been the venue for some of former President Donald Trump’s most dishonest speecheslengthy, lie-filled addresses in which he has regaled friendly crowds with many of his favorite false claims.

He stuck to tradition in his CPAC speech on Saturday, repeating more than a dozen previously debunked statements. (He also made some dubious new claims we’ll look into.) Here’s a fact check of 12 of his remarks.

(1) Trump and the invasion of Iraq

Trump repeated his years-old claim that he had warned the US not to launch an invasion of Iraq.

He said: “Remember I used to say a long time ago, ‘Don’t go into Iraq. Don’t do it!’ But I was only a civilian, so I didn’t get that much press. I said, ‘Don’t go into Iraq, but if you’re going to do it, keep the oil.’ Do you remember I used to say that all the time? Keep the oil. ‘Don’t do it, but keep the oil.’”

Facts First: Trump’s claim that he warned the US not to invade Iraq is false; the claim was debunked eight years ago. In reality, Trump did not publicly express opposition to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq before it occurred. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump argued a military strike on Iraq might be necessary; when radio host Howard Stern asked Trump in September 2002 whether he is “for invading Iraq,” Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly”; and Trump did not express a firm opinion about the looming war in a Fox interview in January 2003, saying that “either you attack or don’t attack” and that then-President George W. Bush “has either got to do something or not do something, perhaps.”

Trump began criticizing the war in 2003, after the invasion, and also said that year that American troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq. He emerged as an explicit opponent of the war in 2004. You can read more here about his shifting positions.

A CNN search in 2019 turned up no examples of Trump saying anything before the war about keeping Iraq’s oil. Trump’s White House did not respond at the time to our request to provide any such evidence.

(2) Trump and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Claiming that he was tough on Russia during his presidency, Trump brought up the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany and claimed, as he has repeatedly before, that “I ended Nord Stream” and that “I stopped it, it was over.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. He did not “end” Nord Stream or render it “over.” While he did approve sanctions on companies working on the project, that move came nearly three years into his presidency, when the pipeline was already around 90% complete – and the state-owned Russian gas company behind the project said shortly after the sanctions that it would complete the pipeline itself. The company announced in December 2020 that construction was resuming. And with days left in Trump’s term in January 2021, Germany announced that it had renewed permission for construction in its waters.

The pipeline never began operations; Germany ended up halting the project as Russia was about to invade Ukraine in early 2022. The pipeline was damaged later that year in what has been described as a likely act of sabotage.

(3) The 2020 election

Trump returned to his frequent lies about the 2020 election, saying it was a “rigged election” and that “in 2020, they cheated like dogs.”

Facts First: These Trump claims are false. The election wasn’t rigged and Trump’s opponents didn’t cheat. Joe Biden won fair and square. There was a tiny amount of voter fraud that was nowhere near widespread enough to have changed the outcome in any state, let alone to have reversed Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.

(4) Biden and Trump’s indictments

Trump said of Biden: “He indicted me.” He also decried supposed “Stalinist show trials carried out at Joe Biden's orders.”

Facts First: This claim is not supported by any evidence. Grand juries made up of ordinary citizens – in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, DC – approved the indictments in each of Trump’s criminal cases. There is no basis for the claim that Biden ordered Trump to be criminally charged or face civil trials.

Trump’s two federal indictments were brought by a special counsel, Jack Smith. Smith was appointed in November 2022 by Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden appointee, but that is not proof that Biden was involved in the prosecution effort, much less that Biden personally ordered the indictments; Garland has said he would resign if Biden ever asked him to take action against Trump but was sure that would never happen. And there is no sign that Biden has had any role in bringing charges against Trump in Manhattan or Fulton County, Georgia; those prosecutions have been led by elected local district attorneys. 

(5) Trump’s indictments vs. Al Capone’s indictments

Repeating one of his regular campaign claims, Trump said, “I’ve been indicted more than Alphonse Capone,” even though Capone was a notoriously vicious gangster.

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Trump has been indicted four times. Capone was indicted at least six times, as A. Brad Schwartz, the co-author of a book on Capone, told CNN.

Also, Schwartz noted: “This isn’t a race, of course, but it may be worth noting that Capone is also way ahead in individual counts (the 1931 Prohibition indictment alone added up to 5,000 conspiracy charges).” Trump faces 91 total counts over his two federal indictments and two local indictments.

You can read more about Capone’s indictments here. 

(6) Trump and Minneapolis

Reviving a claim he began making in 2020, Trump said that he deployed the National Guard to Minneapolis in 2020 – over the opposition of the state’s Democratic governor – during the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

“I’ll tell you what: If I didn’t bring in the National Guard – ’cause the governor didn’t want to do it, they’d never want to do it … I wish I didn’t wait six days – but if I didn’t bring in the National Guard, wouldn’t even have a city there. That city was going down,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false – and a complete reversal of reality. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, not Trump, was the one who deployed the Minnesota National Guard during the 2020 unrest; Walz first activated the Guard more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself. Walz’s office told CNN in 2020 that the governor activated the Guard in response to requests from officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul – cities also run by Democrats.

Next: We will have CNN's fact-based analysis of Trump's CPAC speech on six additional issues (plus  a bonus issue) -- from "Trump and the border wall" to "Trump and electric cars." We invite you to stay tuned.


(7) Trump and the border wall

Touting the wall construction on the border with Mexico during his presidency, Trump said, “We built 571 miles of border wall.”

Facts FirstTrump’s “571 miles” claim is false, an even greater exaggeration than the inaccurate “561 miles” and “over 500 miles” claims he has made in the past. An official report by US Customs and Border Protection, written two days after Trump left office and subsequently obtained by CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, said the total number built under Trump was 458 miles (including both wall built where no barriers had existed before and wall built to replace previous barriers). Trump has sometimes put the figure, more correctly, at “nearly 500 miles.”

(8) Trump and the word ‘caravans’

Speaking about immigration, Trump referred to migrant caravans – then repeated his common campaign claim that he had personally coined the phrase “caravans”: “That was another name I came up with. I come up with good names.”

Facts FirstTrump did not come up with the word “caravan,” either in general or to describe groups of migrants traveling together toward the US border during his presidency.

Trump first publicly used a variation of the word as president in a tweet on April 1, 2018 (he wrote, in a tweet about immigration, “’caravans’ coming”). But the word had been used by various others in the same context in the days and weeks prior, including in a BuzzFeed News feature article, two days prior to Trump’s tweet, that was headlined, “A Huge Caravan Of Central Americans Is Headed For The US, And No One In Mexico Dares To Stop Them.”

Merriam-Webster says the word caravan “came to English in the late 16th century, from the Italian caravana, which itself came from the Persian kārvān.”

(9) Trump and ISIS

Trump claimed, as he has on numerous previous occasions, that although he was told it would take “four years” to defeat the ISIS terror group, “I knocked it out in four weeks.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim of having defeated ISIS in “four weeks” isn’t true; the ISIS “caliphate” was declared fully liberated more than two years into Trump’s presidency, in 2019. Even if Trump was starting the clock at the time of his visit to Iraq in late December 2018, as he suggested later in the speech, the liberation was proclaimed more than two and a half months later. In addition, Trump gave himself far too much credit for the defeat of the caliphate, as he has before, when he said, “I knocked it out” with no caveats or credit to anyone else: Kurdish forces did much of the ground fighting, and there was major progress against the caliphate under President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016.

IHS Markit, an information company that studied the changing size of the caliphate, reported two days before Trump’s 2017 inauguration that the caliphate shrunk by 23% in 2016 after shrinking by 14% in 2015. “The Islamic State suffered unprecedented territorial losses in 2016, including key areas vital for the group’s governance project,” an analyst there said in a statement at the time. 

(10) Electric cars

Trump deployed his familiar criticism of Biden on environmental policy, saying, “All- electric cars. The all-electric mandate. Everybody has to have an electric car.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim is false. Biden has not mandated that “everybody has to have an electric car,” though his administration has made an aggressive push to try to get automakers and consumers to move toward electric vehicles.

The Biden administration has proposed ambitious new tailpipe emissions regulations for automakersoffered tax credits to people who buy certain electric vehiclesinvested in new electric vehicle charging stations and ordered federal entities to purchase electric vehicles, among other policies promoting the adoption of these vehicles. But there is no Biden requirement that “everybody” has to drive an electric vehicle.

Depending on how automakers were to respond, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new tailpipe rules could, if adopted, require electric vehicles to make up two-thirds of new cars sold in the US by 2032. 

(11)The trade deficit

Returning to his criticism of US trade agreements with various countries, Trump said, “And then you wonder why we have a $2 trillion deficit. If you look at it now, it’s gotten to a level that nobody can even believe; it’s so bad under Biden.”

Facts First: Trump’s “$2 trillion” claim is false, a massive exaggeration. The US has never had a $2 trillion annual trade deficit and does not have one under Biden. The overall deficit, which includes trade in both goods and services, was about $773 billion in 2023, down from a record high of about $951 billion in 2022.

(12) China’s oil purchases from Iran

Trump repeated a story about China and Iran that has become a staple of his campaign speeches. He claimed that, as president, he had threatened that he would cut off all US business with China if China bought even “one barrel of oil from Iran.”

He continued: “And President Xi – I told him this – said, ‘All right, well, we won’t do it. We won’t do it.’ They didn’t buy. By the way, they’re buying billions and billion worth of oil right now. But China didn’t buy.”

Facts FirstTrump’s claim that China “didn’t buy” oil from Iran is false. China’s oil imports from Iran did briefly plummet under Trump in 2019, the year the Trump administration made a concerted effort to deter such purchases, but they never stopped – and then they rose sharply again while Trump was still president. “The claim is untrue because Chinese crude imports from Iran haven’t stopped at all,” Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at Kpler, a market intelligence firm, said in November.

China’s official statistics recorded no purchases of Iranian crude in Trump’s last partial month in office, January 2021, and also none in most of Biden’s first year in office. But that doesn’t mean China’s imports actually ceased; industry experts say it is widely known that China has used a variety of tactics to mask its continued imports from Iran. Smith said Iranian crude is often listed in Chinese data as being from Malaysia; ships may travel from Iran with their transponders switched off and then turn them on when they are near Malaysia, Smith said, or transfer the Iranian oil to other ships.

Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, said in a November email: “China significantly reduced its imports from Iran from around 800,000 barrels per day in 2018 to 100,000 in late 2019. But by the time Trump left office, they were back to upwards to 600(000)-700,000 barrels.”

Here is a bonus critique from CNN:

(13) Trump declares himself a ‘political dissident’ at CPAC, capping a conference catered to conspiracies 

Former President Donald Trump declared himself a “proud political dissident” on Saturday, telling a conservative gathering that his re-election would be “liberation day” for his supporters and “judgment day” for his political enemies.

The striking choice of words, delivered in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, comes just days after Trump likened his legal plight to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the leading dissident of Russian President Vladimir Putin before he died this month in a state prison. Saturday’s remarks represented an undeniable escalation of that rhetoric.

“In many ways, we’re living in hell right now, because the fact is, Joe Biden is a threat to democracy,” Trump told a standing-room-only CPAC audience. “I stand before you today, not only as your past and hopefully future president but as a proud political dissident. I am a dissident.” 

The comments capped a four-day gathering heavily influenced by the most conspiratorial elements of Trump’s movement. Inside CPAC – taking place in Maryland, across the Potomac River from the site of Trump’s failed and unconstitutional attempts to hold on to power – the former president is the rightful current president, mail-in voting is rife with fraud, and a revisionist retelling of the bloody January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol is accepted as fact.

A year after telling CPAC, “I am your retribution” – the early seeds for his campaign of retaliation that has dominated his stump speeches since launching his third White House bid – Trump on Saturday shared a new definition of political vengeance that stopped short of punishing his opponents.

“Your liberty will be our ultimate reward, and the unprecedented success of the United States of America will be my ultimate and absolute revenge,” he said. “That’s what I want. Success will be our revenge.” 

Others speaking at CPAC, though, remained committed to a more exacting fight.

“If the regime is going to change the rules so Trump can be prosecuted, (former President Barack) Obama must be prosecuted,” said Tom Fitton, president of the right-wing legal advocacy group Judicial Watch, evoking chants of “Lock him up” from the audience.

As Trump addressed CPAC, voters in South Carolina headed to the polls for the Republican presidential primary. There, the former president defeated the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, who says she is committed to challenging Trump through Super Tuesday.

Haley, though, went unmentioned during Trump’s remarks in Maryland – an animated 90-minute speech in which he shared stories of flying on Air Force One and mimicked President Joe Biden’s mannerisms.

Instead, Trump’s address set the stage for the general election and his likely rematch with Biden.

In a speech cloaked in dark imagery, Trump predicted a dystopian America under a second Biden term, suggesting the nation will be beset by “constant blackouts” and “rampant inflation,” accompanied by spikes in illegal border crossings and foreign policy decisions that he said will lead to “World War III.”

“If crooked Joe Biden and his thugs win in 2024, the worst is yet to come. Our country will go and sink to levels that were unimaginable,” he said. “These are the stakes of this election. Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

A vote for him, he said, is a “ticket back to freedom.”

Biden’s campaign in a press release called Trump’s remarks “bizarre” and said Trump and Republicans are the ones who want to pull back freedoms.

“Donald Trump is a loser: under his presidency America lost more jobs than any president in modern history, women in more than 20 states have lost the freedom to make their own health care decisions because Trump overturned Roe, and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party lost their damn minds putting Trump’s quest for power over our democracy,” Biden campaign spokesman Ammar Moussa said.

What are the key takeaways from CNN's analysis of Trump's speech. Two points jump out at me:

(1) In No. 4 above, CNN shows that the central contention of Trump's standard campaign speech -- that Joe Biden had him indicted -- is a lie. In clear and direct language, CNN knocks that tall tale out of the ballpark:

 This claim is not supported by any evidence. Grand juries made up of ordinary citizens – in New York, Georgia, Florida and Washington, DC – approved the indictments in each of Trump’s criminal cases. There is no basis for the claim that Biden ordered Trump to be criminally charged or face civil trials.  

CNN's retort suggests two things: (a) Trump has no clue how our legal system works; or (b) he is pulling a con game, a hoax, on his most ardent followers -- probably because he knows he can get away with it. I suspect bot of those are correct, which means the MAGA crowd is being duped -- but many of them have not figured it out yet. 

(2) In No. 3 above, Trump drags out his tired claim that the 2020 election was "rigged" and the Biden side "cheated like dogs." CNN bats that one down easily:

The election wasn’t rigged and Trump’s opponents didn’t cheat. Joe Biden won fair and square. There was a tiny amount of voter fraud that was nowhere near widespread enough to have changed the outcome in any state, let alone to have reversed Biden’s 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.

CNN has done a huge public service by showing in straightforward language that Trump's two central grievances -- that Biden had him indicted, and the 2020 election was rigged against him -- are false.

That leaves this message for the MAGA crowd: Your "Orange Idol" is lying to you, playing you for fools. Let's hope you come to recognize that soon.

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