Fact Checking the Presidential Debate


Photo courtesy of Fox News.

One thing is for certain after the debate tonight: whoever moves into the Oval Office in 2017 is a liar.

Both Trump and Clinton made a wide variety of claims about their opponents throughout the debate, and before their policy stances can be evaluated, the accuracy of these claims should be sorted out.  Looking at the fact-checking done by the AP and Politifact, the candidates are both guilty of lying, or perhaps, simply forgetting the truth. For many college students, this will be their first chance to vote in a presidential election. It is important that candidates are held to a standard of transparency, or at least honesty, so Americans have the information they need to make well-educated voting decisions.

The debate kicked off with comments from both candidates about the economy. Clinton accused Trump of hoping that the economy would collapse in 2008 with the expectation that he would profit from it, and instead of refuting the claim, Trump replied that making decisions based on the prediction that the economy would collapse was good business.

Despite such strong statements, it’s debatable whether or not Trump’s tax plan is “good business,” or even does what he assures it will do in terms of remedying income inequality. Clinton’s claim that Trump’s tax plan would benefit the wealthiest Americans more than the middle class, checks out. Under Trump’s plan, the top 0.1% will receive 18% of the tax cuts while the bottom 60% will only receive 16.4%.

On top of that, Trump criticized how much the debt rose during Obama’s tenure, but according to the Congressional Budget Office (AP), by 2026 the debt would increase by $5.3 trillion as a result of Trump’s tax cuts, but only $200 billion as a result of Clinton’s cuts.

Speaking of taxes, Clinton and Trump squabbled about Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. Trump insisted that he has yet to release them because he is being audited by the IRS, although Trump has declined to formally provide the IRS’ audit notice to the AP. Though Trump added, “You don’t learn a lot from tax returns,” they would provide specific information about his finances that is difficult to get elsewhere.

Following discussion about the economy, Lester Holt turned the conversation to race relations in America. Trump blamed Hillary for starting the dispute about whether or not Obama was born in the U.S. It is difficult to ascertain exactly who started the birther movement, but in John Avlon’s book, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, he attributes the start of the conspiracy to a member of PUMA (Party Unity My Ass), a group formed by fervent Clinton supporters during the 2008 election, who claimed in a posting to the PUMA website, “Obama May Be Illegal To Be Elected President.” No evidence indicates that Clinton herself had anything to do with the accusations. Nor is there evidence to confirm or deny Trump’s assertion that Hillary Clinton released photos of Obama wearing traditional Kenyan clothing in an effort to hurt his presidential campaign in 2008.

Trump also noted that Clinton referred to primarily African-American gang members as “super-predators,” and she did in fact use that term to describe them in the 90s while defending her husband’s crime bill, according to Politifact.

The candidates disagreed about “stop and frisk”; Trump was adamant that its institution in New York City significantly reduced gun violence while Clinton agreed with the ruling that it is unconstitutional and a violation of basic rights. Upon further investigation of a report released by the NYCLU on NYPD stop and frisks in 2012, 87% of those stopped by stop and frisks were black and Latino, more young black men were stopped by the NYPD in 2011 than there are young black men in the city, and only 1.9% of frisks in 2011 found weapons. The New York Times reported in 2002, 97,296 New Yorkers were stopped and 587 homicides were reported. Ten years later in 2012, after institution of the stop and frisk policy, 685,724 were stopped but the homicides only decreased to 532, proving that stop and frisks are not directly correlated with homicide rates.

Trump also obscured the truth about the discrimination lawsuit in which he found himself after allegedly refusing to rent out apartment units to colored tenants at several apartment complexes. Trump stressed that he never admitted guilt, and this is true, though Trump falsely assured listeners that he was sued along with many other companies when, according to the AP, his company was the only one sued.

He distorted the truth once again by denying Clinton’s claim that he believed climate change was a hoax purported by China. Trump tweeted in 2012, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

However, Trump’s reminder that President Obama and Clinton feel that climate is a bigger threat to mankind is not unbased. In the 2015 State of the Union address, Obama said, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Though in 2014 at his commencement address at West Point he said, “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism.” Obama’s opinions about the issue are ambiguous.

On the topic of managing terrorism, whether or not Trump supported the war in Iraq was another hotly contested issue. Trump was never particularly vocal about his stance on the Iraq War, but in 2002, when asked by Howard Stern if he would support an Iraq invasion, he replied, “Yeah, I guess so.”

In 2003, days after the initial invasion, Trump spoke in commendation of the invasion during an interview with Neil Cavuto, saying that the war “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint,” but his opinions began to shift later that year until he openly disapproved of the war by 2004. Trump’s feelings about the war were initially lukewarm, but it is difficult to definitively determine his true feelings about the war in Iraq.

Lack of transparency was prevalent with both candidates, as Clinton falsely denied Trump’s claim that she considered the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Clinton made that statement in 2012, and did not change her tune until Bernie Sanders expressed his disapproval of the deal during the Democratic primary this year.

Clinton has proposed free college-tuition for in-state students, but Clinton has been less than emphatic about the fact that students would still need to pay for room and board which is a significant expense.

And of course, it couldn’t have been a complete debate without Trump asking Hillary why she felt the need to delete 33,000 emails and was curious as to what she could possibly be hiding.

Surprisingly, Benghazi was left out of the discussion entirely, but Trump made sure to criticize the deal made with Iran. Clinton assured us that it successfully capped Iran’s nuclear development program, but the jury is still out on whether or not the deal will ultimately achieve the best outcome for the U.S.

Looking past the accusations thrown left and right, the candidates agreed on several issues including the importance of limiting nuclear development, building better relationships between the police force and minority communities, economic growth, and helping small businesses.

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About Sara Otto

Sara was a contributor to the Michgian Review.