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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Invoking Trump in Down-Ballot Ad

A labor union distorts Donald Trump’s position on Medicare in a TV ad, claiming Trump says “you have to look at Medicare going away.” But Trump has said — repeatedly — that he wants to keep Medicare and preserve the current level of benefits.

The ad from Unite Here Tip State and Local Fund — a political action committee that represents workers in the hotel, casino, food service, airport, textile, manufacturing, distribution, laundry, and transportation industries — is an example of how Democrats and their allies are likely to attack Trump to help Democratic candidates in races further down the ballot. For months, Republicans and Democrats alike have speculated about the down-ballot implications of Trump’s presidential run.

In this case, the ad is in support of state Sen. Ruben Kihuen’s bid for the Democratic nomination in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Kihuen is a former aide of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has endorsed Kihuen’s campaign.

The ad begins with an angry image of Trump as the narrator states, “Donald Trump says you have to look at Medicare going away.” A graphic on the screen shows a partially paraphrased quote: “‘You have to look at … ‘ Medicare going away. Donald Trump.” The ad then goes on to say that “Sen. Harry Reid always protected Medicare” and that “Ruben will protect Medicare like Harry Reid did.”

Representatives from United Here did not respond to our requests for backup material, but the partial quote used in the ad appears to come from an Oct. 25, 2015, interview on ABC’s “This Week.” Host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump what he thought about Ben Carson’s plan for health care savings accounts, and specifically if Trump agreed with Carson that Medicare probably won’t be necessary if money is shifted from Medicare to the health care savings accounts.

“Well, it’s possible,” Trump said. “You’re going to have to look at that, but I’ll tell you what, the health savings accounts, I’ve been talking about it also. I think it’s a very good idea and it’s an idea whose probably time has come.”

Stephanopoulos, Oct. 25, 2015: On health care, Ben Carson’s calling for health savings accounts. He says he wants to shift money from Medicare and Medicaid and other health spending to these accounts and he says that, under his plan, Medicare probably won’t be necessary. What do you think of that?

Trump: Well, I’m OK with the savings accounts. I think it’s a good idea; it’s a very down-the-middle idea. It works. It’s something that’s proven. …

Stephanopoulos: So if you agree with these health savings accounts idea, do you also agree with Ben Carson when he says Medicare probably won’t be necessary?

Trump: Well, it’s possible. You’re going to have to look at that, but I’ll tell you what, the health savings accounts, I’ve been talking about it also. I think it’s a very good idea and it’s a — it’s an idea whose probably time has come.

We’ll allow that Trump’s answer is a bit confusing. And it’s true that Trump has been short on details on how to keep Medicare solvent, aside from saying that he would seek to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. But Trump has been crystal clear on numerous occasions both before and after this interview that he would preserve Medicare.

In fact, just a few days after the ABC “This Week” interview, Trump was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program attacking Carson for those same comments.

“Ben [Carson] wants to knock out Medicare. I heard that over the weekend. He wants to abolish Medicare,” Trump said. He went on to say: “Abolishing Medicare, I don’t think you’ll get away with that one. It’s actually a program that’s worked. It’s a program that some people love, actually.”

We found at least a dozen instances of Trump vowing to preserve Medicare, and in many cases contrasting his steadfast support with plans by some of his Republican rivals to change it.

In his speech announcing his presidential candidacy last year,  Trump promised to save Medicare “without cuts.”

Trump, June 16, 2015: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying it for years. And now many of these candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, by making us rich again, by taking back all of the money that’s being lost.

But his position goes back long before that. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013, Trump warned (at the 1:51 mark) that Republicans who insist on major changes to Medicare will lose.

Trump, March 15, 2013: As Republicans, if you think you’re going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time, you think you’re going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen.

Indeed, in February, Trump said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was hurt in 2012 by choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, because Ryan had proposed a budget that called for an overhaul of the Medicare program.

“Every single other candidate is going to cut the hell out of your Social Security — remember the wheelchair being pushed over the cliff when you had Ryan chosen as your vice president?” Trump said at an event at a retirement community. “That was the end of that campaign, by the way, when they chose Ryan. And I like him, he’s a nice person, but that was the end of the campaign. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding — because he represented cutting entitlements, et cetera, et cetera.’ The only one that’s not going to cut is me.”

Trump was referring to a widely seen Internet video in 2011 of a man pushing a white-haired woman in a wheelchair to the edge of a scenic cliff and dumping her over it. It ends by asking, “Is America Beautiful without Medicare?”  The attack was bogus. At the time, Ryan proposed changes to Medicare for workers now under age 55, not current seniors, and subsidize the purchase of private insurance for those who go on Medicare after 2022.

In an interview on Fox News on March 13, Howard Kurtz asked Trump about Social Security and Medicare and Trump said, “I don’t want to change [them].” He then explained, “And I don’t want to change it for a number of reasons. But one is because they’ve committed, they’ve paid in for years.”

In an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network on May 9, Trump promised to leave Medicare “the way it is.”

Bartiromo, May 9: So, are you going to change the entitlements? I’m talking Social Security, Medicare.

Trump: No, but you have to do the waste, fraud and abuse. There is tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, but I’m leaving it the way it is.

And at a campaign rally in Milwaukee on April 4, Trump insisted that while some have called for substantial changes to Medicare, “It’s not going to happen, OK? Remember that. It’s not going to happen.”

Trump, April 4: We’re going to save your Social Security and we’re going to save your Medicare. We are going to save it because we’re going to make our country rich again, we’re going to bring back our jobs. We’re not going to let our jobs go. And we’re going to be able to afford. You’ve been paying in it for a long time and a lot of these guys want it to be knocked to hell. It’s not going to happen, OK? Remember that. It’s not going to happen.

Here are a few other examples of Trump vowing to “save” Medicare: Oct. 28, 2015; April 12;  April 13; and May 20.

Trump may make an enticing target for down-ballot candidates — and those supporting them — but in this case, the ad’s claim that Trump “says you have to look at Medicare going away” is misleading, and contrary to Trump’s repeated statements on Medicare. Kihuen is one of eight Democrats running in the June 14 primary for the 4th Congressional District, with the winner hoping to compete for a seat currently held by Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy.