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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Harry Reid’s Wild Exaggerations

In a floor speech, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid made some wildly exaggerated claims about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s endorsement of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump:

  • Reid said McConnell is “enthusiastically embracing” Trump’s candidacy. But Politico said McConnell gave Trump a “lukewarm endorsement.” The Washington Post called it “tepid.”
  • Reid claimed McConnell’s support for Trump is so strong that “you can only assume he agrees with Trump’s view that women are dogs and pigs.” But Reid applies false logic (McConnell’s endorsement equals support for all of Trump’s statements) to arrive at a faulty conclusion (McConnell agrees women are dogs and pigs).
  • The Nevada Democrat also said Trump’s “policy positions are identical to the Republican Party platform.” They are not identical, which is the reason House Speaker Paul Ryan has yet to endorse Trump. There are major differences on entitlements, foreign policy and trade, for example.

Reid made his remarks on the Senate floor on the day that Trump was in Washington to meet with Ryan. The likely Republican standard-bearer later met with McConnell.

Reid, May 12: Since Senator McConnell is so enthusiastically embracing Trump, you can only assume he agrees with Trump’s view that women are dogs and pigs. You can only assume that the Republicans’ leader is not repulsed by Trump’s behavior towards women.

First some background: The Senate Democrats have already begun to use guilt by association to tie all Republican Senate candidates to Trump’s policies and statements. The Hill reported in March on a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Web video that “intersperses clips of some of Trump’s incendiary remarks — with a lot of foul language bleeped out — with clips of incumbents and House members running for Senate saying they’ll support Trump if he’s the party’s nominee.”

Now, let’s look at what McConnell has said about Trump.

McConnell endorsed his fellow Kentuckian, Sen. Rand Paul, for president, not Trump. After Paul dropped out, McConnell didn’t endorse any of the other remaining candidates.

When it became clear that Trump would be the nominee, McConnell announced in a statement on May 4 that he would support Trump. “On Wednesday evening, 24 hours after Trump won the Indiana primary and knocked out his remaining presidential contenders, McConnell released a tepid statement saying he would support the nominee,” the Washington Post reported.

Politico called it both “tepid” and “lukewarm,” noting that McConnell issued a statement rather than holding a press conference.

Politico, May 11: McConnell quietly laid out his rationale for offering a tepid endorsement in a news statement: He had long committed to supporting the nominee and Trump was now the guy. It didn’t get a lot of buzz, and neither did his remarks Tuesday in which he offered facts rather than opinions, concluding that Trump “got more votes than anybody else.”

The Hill, in its story on the endorsement, also noted McConnell’s backing was expected, despite his “skepticism of Trump.” The Hill wrote, “While McConnell had made his skepticism of Trump clear throughout the raucous primary, he also always said he would back the eventual nominee.”

The Hill described some of the Senate leader’s differences with Trump.

The Hill, May 4: In December, McConnell criticized Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from entering the United States as “inconsistent with American values.”

He admonished the front-runner earlier this year, urging him to condemn violence at his rallies after protesters were assaulted.

He told Trump during a phone call in March “that I thought it would be a good idea for him no matter who starts these violent episodes to condemn it.”

McConnell clearly does not endorse everything that Trump has said or done, so Reid cannot “assume he agrees with Trump’s view that women are dogs and pigs.” (For more on what exactly Trump called some of his female adversaries — not all women — see our Aug. 11, 2015, story “Trump’s Amnesia.”)

Reid, of course, knows better. During his own reelection campaign in 2010, Reid criticized President Obama when the president warned families about wasting money in Las Vegas casinos instead of saving for family expenses, such as college tuition. “The president needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn’t be spending their money,” Reid said at the time.

It is true that McConnell, whose primary focus is maintaining control of the Senate, seemed cheered by Quinnipiac University polls that showed Trump was doing well in three swing states where the Republicans are battling to hold on to Senate seats. CNN quoted McConnell as saying, “It looks to me like at the beginning of the race, Florida and Pennsylvania and Ohio look pretty competitive. It’s a long time until November, but the early indications are that our nominee is likely to be very competitive.”

But Reid takes McConnell’s hope that Trump is competitive in key swing states as a sign that the Republican leader is now “enthusiastically embracing” Trump. Reid goes even further to assume this enthusiasm for Trump is because the likely nominee’s policies are “identical to the Republican Party platform.”

“While speaking with reporters earlier this week, the Republican leader even sounded enthusiastic about Trump’s chances in the general election,” Reid said in his floor speech. “I guess he should be giddy about a Trump presidency. Donald Trump is everything that the Republican leader and his party could ever want in a nominee. His policy positions are identical to the Republican Party platform.”

Trump’s policy positions are not “identical to the Republican Party platform.”

The Washington Post back in August listed numerous instances in which Trump has taken positions at odds with the 2012 Republican platform, and more recently so did the Daily Caller and the New York Times.

Here are some examples where Trump’s positions are at odds with the party platform:

Trade: The 2012 platform praises free trade agreements for creating “nearly 10 million jobs,” and called for implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In an op-ed, Trump has blamed trade pacts for costing millions of jobs and singled out the TPP as “the biggest betrayal in a long line of betrayals where politicians have sold out U.S. workers.”

Nuclear weapons: The party platform calls for “preventing the spread of those armaments,” while Trump has said “maybe it’s not so bad” if Japan had a nuclear weapon, and South Korea too, to deter North Korea.

Entitlement programs: As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan repeatedly has proposed budgets that include significant changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The party platform agrees on the need for “major structural reforms” to entitlement programs to balance the budget. But Trump has criticized Ryan‘s budget proposals on entitlements as the reason why the Republicans lost the White House in 2012 when Ryan was on the ticket. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump has vowed.

Reid is no doubt eager to tie Senate Republicans to Trump, but in this instance the Democratic leader twisted the facts to do so.