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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Democratic Deceptions

TV ads tie Donald Trump to GOP candidates who don't support him.


In state after state, Democrats are engaging in a widespread pattern of deception, trying to tie Donald Trump around the necks of Republican House candidates who actually have repudiated him.

  • In Pennsylvania, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claimed GOP House candidate Brian Fitzpatrick “supports Donald Trump,” even though he never clearly endorsed Trump and said earlier this month he won’t be voting for Trump because of his “disgusting” comments about women.
  • In Colorado, another DCCC ad says Republican Rep. Mike Coffman “said he would support Donald Trump for president, and that’s all we really need to know.” Actually, Coffman already had condemned Trump and called for him to get out of the race “for the good of the country.”
  • A Democratic super PAC is running two ads in California saying Republican Rep. David Valadao “absolutely” said he would support Trump, when in fact the congressman repudiated Trump nearly four months ago.
  • In upstate New York, even after GOP Rep. John Katko said Trump “will never earn my vote,” his Democratic challenger kept running an ad hundreds of times using a months-old clip of him promising to support his party’s nominee.
  • And in Florida, as we reported earlier, the DCCC ran an ad with a faked photo of GOP Rep. David Jolly shaking Trump’s hand, even though Jolly says he’s never met Trump, won’t vote for him and doesn’t consider him qualified to be president.


The DCCC’s deceptive ad attacking Jolly in Florida was the subject of a separate item we posted Oct. 14. We can now report that this is part of a multistate pattern. Besides Florida, we found similar deceitful ads in Pennsylvania, Colorado, California and New York.


In Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, GOP candidate Brian Fitzpatrick was hit with multiple ads claiming he “supports Donald Trump,” even though he avoided making an endorsement of Trump for months before finally repudiating him earlier this month.

This 15-second ad is just one of several by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that made the claim both in bold graphics and in the narrator’s audio.

In fact, Fitzpatrick avoided saying he’d support Trump as far back as May, when the DCCC itself complained in a news release that he was “dodging”  questions about Trump. That was after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that for two weeks it had been unable to get a response from Fitzpatrick about whether or not he was supporting Trump.

Fitzpatrick’s silence lasted until July, when the Inquirer reported just before the GOP convention (which Fitzpatrick did not attend) that he gave the newspaper a 333-word statement that “offered some praise for Trump without firmly picking sides.”

The closest we can find to a Fitzpatrick endorsement of Trump — even in the DCCC’s own opposition research — is a promise he reportedly made during his own primary race to “fully support” the eventual presidential choice of the district’s Republican primary voters. But when the nominee turned out to be Trump, as we’ve just shown, Fitzpatrick didn’t fulfill his promise.

More recently, Fitzpatrick said publicly Oct. 8 that he wouldn’t be voting for Trump because of what he called Trump’s “disgusting” comments about women in a 2005 recording made public the day before.

Even then, the DCCC continued running this ad until Oct. 11, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, which monitors political TV ads.

And more recently, on Oct. 25, the DCCC released a similar ad with subtly altered wording. It accuses Fitzpatrick of supporting Trump’s “agenda” (a matter of opinion) and saying he “supported” Trump — using past tense. But in the DCCC’s own words, Fitzpatrick was “dodging” Trump, not supporting him. So even this ad is wrong.


In Colorado, another DCCC ad says: “[GOP Rep. Mike] Coffman said he would support Donald Trump for president, and that’s all we really need to know.”

Actually, voters may wish to know that Coffman said no such thing. Days before this ad starting running, he called for Trump to get out of the race “for the good of the country.”

This ad started airing Oct. 21, according to CMAG. That’s nearly two weeks after news of Trump’s lewd comments to “Access Hollywood” co-host Billy Bush in 2005 became public, prompting Coffman to say:

Coffman, Oct. 8: For the good of the country, and to give the Republicans a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump should step aside. His defeat at this point seems almost certain.

Later, on Oct. 18 (three days before the DCCC ad began airing), Coffman said: “I don’t know if I’ll cast a vote for president. … I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I’m struggling with it like many other Americans.”

For months prior to that, Coffman publicly criticized Trump while avoiding saying whether he would support him. As far back as May 4, Coffman said that “Trump has a long way to go to earn the support of many — me included.” That was a day after Trump became the all-but-certain GOP nominee upon the May 3 exit of Sen. Ted Cruz from the nomination fight.

In August, Coffman got national attention for running a TV ad saying, “People ask me, ‘what do you think about Trump?’ Honestly, I don’t care for him much.”

To justify its bogus claim, the DCCC goes back to a Feb. 2 story in the Colorado Statesman, which quoted a Coffman spokesman — not Coffman himself — as saying he’d support the eventual “Republican nominee” — without naming Trump (who had just finished a disappointing second in the Iowa caucuses).

The relevant portion of that story is hidden behind a paywall on the Statesman’s website, but is quoted fully elsewhere:

Colorado Statesman, Feb. 2: “Will Mike Coffman support the Republican nominee over Bernie or Hillary?” said [Coffman] campaign spokeswoman Kristin Strohm. “The answer is obviously yes. And he believes strongly it is going to be Marco Rubio.”

But as we’ve noted, a promise to support a yet-to-be-chosen nominee is not the same thing as actually doing it. And the sell-by date on spokeswoman Strohm’s statement expired a few weeks after she made it, when Coffman himself said Trump had “a long way to go” to earn his vote. And now Coffman says he won’t vote for Trump.


The House Majority PAC (a Democratic super PACreleased two ads Oct. 18 falsely implying that Republican Rep. David Valadao is supporting Trump, when in fact he publicly rejected Trump nearly four months ago.

In the first ad, the narrator says, “Even after Donald Trump degraded women and mocked our veterans, Republican congressman Valadao said he would ‘absolutely’ support Trump.” (Trump is heard saying, “She ate like a pig” and “He’s a war hero because he was captured.”)

Actually, Valadao said way back on June 29 that he could no longer support Trump. And on Oct. 8, he tweeted that “this type of disgusting behavior is exactly why,” after Trump’s lewd comments about women to Billy Bush were released.

Valadao said in a TV interview — nearly a year ago — that he “absolutely” would support Trump or Ben Carson if either won the Republican nomination, even though he was supporting Jeb Bush at the time. That was Oct. 30, 2015, before any caucuses or primaries had been held, and when Trump was still vying with 14 other Republican presidential hopefuls for the nomination.

The ad is accurate only in the narrow sense that Valadao’s hypothetical promise to support Trump came “even after” Trump denigrated at least one veteran and at least one woman. Trump made his disparaging comment about Sen. John McCain being “captured” on July 18, 2015. And Trump said on CNN in 2007 that rival TV personality Rosie O’Donnell “ate like a pig,” the remark featured in the ad.

We also note that Valadao let his promise of support for Trump stand until just before the GOP convention in July.

Nevertheless, we find the ad misleading because it invites viewers to believe the congressman still supports Trump, which he emphatically does not. It also relies on a statement Valadao made long before the full sweep of Trump’s disparagement of other women besides O’Donnell came to wide public attention, which is not made clear in the ad.

The House Majority PAC doubled down on this deception with a Spanish-language ad released the same day, Oct. 18. The narrator says, in translation, “Valadao said that absolutely he would support Trump. Say no to Trump, no to Valadao, no to hate.”

The ad shows a clip of Trump saying a federal judge couldn’t treat him fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage — which Trump first said June 2 and in a CNN interview June 3. That was seven months after Valadao’s “absolutely” comment, and was one of the last straws that led Valadao to issue a June 29 statement saying, “I cannot back a candidate who denigrates people based on their ethnicity, religion, or disabilities.”

New York

In upstate New York, the DCCC and Democratic challenger Colleen Deacon jointly released an ad Oct. 8 showing GOP Rep. John Katko saying “I absolutely will support” the Republican party’s nominee, even if it is Trump.

That’s fair enough — up to a point. When asked about Trump in that May 3 TV interview, Katko said, “Whoever the Republican nominee is I absolutely will support.” He even went on to say that Trump “has a lot of good principles” and had tapped into a vein of discontent among many voters.

But in that same interview, Katko went on to express reservations: “The problem is can [Trump] deliver that message without offending people and that’s what we have to deal with going forward.”

Then in June, Katko publicly questioned whether Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States was constitutional. And in August, after Trump criticized the Muslim Khan family, whose son had been killed in Iraq, Katko issued a statement calling Trump’s comments “incredibly disrespectful.”

Finally, on Oct. 8 — as the ad was being released — Katko denounced Trump’s comments about groping women as “offensive, disgusting, and inexcusable.”

He went on to say Trump “will never earn my vote”:

Katko, Oct. 8: These comments are horrific, but are sadly only the latest in a series of vulgar and inappropriate comments and behavior. Faced with two candidates with serious flaws, I have long declined to endorse or support Donald Trump in this race. … Neither candidate shares my values. I cannot support Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump has not and will never earn my vote.

The DCCC/Deacon ad first aired a few hours before Katko’s statement that Trump could never earn his vote. But it continued to run until Oct. 23, with a total of 443 airings, according to CMAG.

More recently, on Oct. 25, the House Majority PAC released an ad that stopped short of claiming Katko pledged support for Trump. But it still replayed Katko’s May remark that Trump “has a lot of good principles,” and it included a snippet from a later interview in which he said Trump “wants to keep the country safe.”

This ad is also deceptive, using quotes that are taken far out of context.

That latter comment was from an Aug. 4 TV interview (at the 9:50 mark) in which Katko also defended at length his refusal to endorse Trump, who was by then the party’s official nominee.

In that interview, Katko said Trump’s “tone and rhetoric was nothing that I expected,” and that he would not be endorsing Trump unless that changed.

Katko, Aug. 4: He’s got time to change. If he does change and does “get it,” we’ll revisit the issue. But not unless.

The ad concludes with the narrator asking, “Congressman Katko, where are your principles?”

Voters might ask the same of the Democratic ad makers behind all these deceptive ads.


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