President Trump’s reelection campaign has spent tens of millions of dollars on television ads attacking his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden. While their content varies greatly, be it the coronavirus, police funding, taxes, or charter schools, the tactics used remain constant: selectively edited remarks and exaggerations.
The New York Times reviewed 22 ads from the Trump campaign that have aired since June and that have been tracked by Advertising Analytics. The Times found that 14 contained clearly misleading claims or videos. Here’s a review.
Exaggerations about criminal justice policy
Throughout much of June and July, the ads have focused on activists’ calls to defund the police with hyperbolic warnings about the ramifications.
One, titled “Break-In,” begins with a voice describing “Seattle’s pledge to defund its police department by 50 percent, even including a proposal to remove 911 dispatchers from police control” as an older woman notices someone breaking into her house and dials 911.
The woman’s call is then answered by a voice recording: “You have reached 911. I’m sorry that there is no one here to answer your emergency call. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”
Seven of Seattle’s nine council members support cutting and reprogramming 50 percent of the police department’s budget, but have yet to lay out a specific plan, while the city’s Democratic mayor and police chief oppose the goal.
Council members did express interest in a proposal from activists seeking to replace the police department’s call center with a system controlled by civilians. It would not end the use of emergency dispatchers altogether, as the voicemail message in the ad suggests.
Another spot devotes the entire 30 seconds to a more elaborate version of the emergency call voicemail, overlaid with text claiming that “violent crime has exploded” because of calls to defund the police — a claim echoed in three additional Trump campaign ads.
But that’s largely false. Compared with the same time period last year, violent crime and property crime have decreased through June in large American cities this year, though murders have increased.
Distorting Biden’s positions
Several Trump campaign ads falsely claim Biden supports defunding the police, heavily raising taxes on middle-class families, and eliminating charter schools.
“Break-In” features Fox News host Sean Hannity claiming, “Joe Biden said he’s absolutely on board with defunding the police” before a clip of Biden saying, “Yes, absolutely.”
The former vice president has repeatedly said that he does not support calls to defund the police entirely, but that federal grants to police departments should incentivize reform efforts and best practices while specific decisions about funding should be made at a local level.
“I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said in June in an interview with CBS. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.”
Asked during a June town hall event about Los Angeles’ decision to shift $150 million from its police department, Biden responded: “Some places, they’re short on having enough people to cover the community or others the police departments have a lot more than they need. And so it depends on the community.”
Other spots warn that Biden “supports massive taxes on working families.” A new ad titled “Takeover” misleadingly cites the Tax Policy Center to claim that he would impose “trillions in new taxes, crushing middle-class families.”
Analysis from the center does show that Biden’s tax proposals would generate an additional $4 trillion in federal revenue over the next decade, but the Trump campaign is wrong that this would come from the middle class. Rather, the wealthiest top 1 percent of taxpayers would bear about three-quarters of tax increases. In contrast, middle-class taxpayers would see an average increase of $260, totaling 2.4 percent of the total burden.
Personal attacks on Biden through edited media
The Trump campaign has taken shots at Biden’s mental acuity through deceptively edited videos and images.
One ad and its Spanish version call Biden “clearly diminished” and include a clip of Biden saying, “Sometimes I wake up and think it’s 1920.”
While Biden has been prone to gaffes on the campaign trail, that specific comment is not an example of one. Rather, it is how Biden has occasionally expressed dismay over the current social and political atmosphere.
“Some mornings that I wake up, I wonder whether or not we are living in 2020 or 1920,” he said in January in Texas. “I hear the voices of intolerance singing the chorus of hate, intolerance.”