President Trump routinely strategically exaggerates his achievements and stretches the truth to manipulate the media, according to a former adviser.
Some examples of Trump’s intentional exaggerations: inflating the GDP growth numbers in 2018, overstating the magnitude of drug price declines under his watch, falsely suggesting that all Democrats want to outlaw private health insurance, and claiming that he’s the best president ever for African Americans.
“[Trump] began with a now-familiar strategy for getting the press to cover a new fact, which is to exaggerate it so that the press might enjoy correcting him and unwittingly disseminate the intended finding,” said Casey Mulligan, who served as the chief economist of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2018 to 2019.
“The president’s gamble is that voters aware of his successes on substance will tolerate his eccentricities and improprieties in form,” said Mulligan, who lays out the case in detail in his forthcoming tell-all book, You’re Hired!: Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President.
One part of Trump’s tenure that he’s particularly proud of is the economic growth. The economy had grown 3.1% over the four quarters of 2018, which had not happened in one calendar year since 2005.
Although having the highest economic growth in 14 years based on the annual calendar growth rate was significant, Mulligan said, Trump nevertheless complained that the accomplishment was “not getting fair coverage.” Trump decided to put a tweet out to get more attention.
“POTUS asked whether the tweet should say that it was the fastest growth in 20 years. Or 50? What would be the sweet exaggeration spot that would get media attention?” Trump said in private conversation with his economic advisers in 2019, according to Mulligan’s upcoming book.
Trump went on to cite the exaggerated GDP growth numbers during some Trump rallies, Mulligan said.
Mulligan says in the book that, on many occasions, Trump would first report or tweet the numbers given to him by advisers with “100 percent precision.” Later, though, he would embellish the claims after consultation with his communications team, primarily social media chief Dan Scavino and senior adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, gauged “whether the coverage needed exaggeration.”
When it came to the Trump administration’s success in reducing the cost of prescription drugs in 2018, once again, the president started off quoting accurate numbers but then slipped into exaggerations when insufficient attention was given to the accomplishment, according to Trump.
Initially, Trump said drug prices in 2018 had dropped for “the first time in nearly half a century.” This was accurate.
Just 12 days after the new drug price data had been released, however, Trump was frustrated that the press was not talking about it and began exaggerating during a White House cabinet meeting at which the press was present, claiming that drug prices had declined for the “first time in over 50 years.” An hour later, at another televised cabinet meeting, according to Mulligan’s book, Trump said, “Prescription drugs, for the first time in the history of our country, have gone down in 2018.” Trump said the press didn’t want to report his administration’s success because they didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
The president, Mulligan said, is known not just for exaggerating the facts for his own successes from time to time but also, on occasion, doing so to highlight his opponents’ weaknesses.
According to Mulligan’s book, in fall 2018, on the recommendation of Mulligan and advisers such as Miller, Trump began telling the American public that Democrats’ “Medicare for all” plan would be “outlawing the ability of Americans to enroll in private and employer-based plans.” This messaging on the proposed healthcare plan was meant to highlight the negative elements of socialism, touted by some Democrats such as 2020 presidential contender Bernie Sanders.
This was accurate. Sanders’s Medicare for All Act, for example, would have banned private insurance.
Later, though, Trump would go on to say that “Democrats want to outlaw private health plans,” which is an accurate description of only some Democrats, the 141 Democratic members of the 115th Congress who supported “Medicare for all” bills. Finally, Trump said, “the Democrats want to outlaw private health plans [emphasis added],” which is not accurate since many Democrats do not support “Medicare for all” and thereby do not want to outlaw private health insurance.
Trump saying “the Democrats,” indicating all Democrats want to outlaw private health insurance, enraged Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who doesn’t support “Medicare for all” and bashed Trump for the inaccuracy.
Through a series of exaggerations, Mulligan said, Trump had successfully informed the public that “Medicare for all” would take private health insurance away from millions of people.
Within the current context of the race riots occurring nationwide, Mulligan said Trump’s claim that he’s the best president for African Americans is “probably not accurate.” However, Mulligan added that Trump saying this exaggeration gets the newspapers like the Washington Post to do a fact check on the claim because it’s so outlandish. Such fact checks then unintentionally inform people about the positive steps Trump has taken to help the black community.
“If he hadn’t made that claim, the Washington Post would have never done any analysis of Trump policies that are good for African Americans. Mission accomplished, right?” said Mulligan.
“He manipulates the fact checkers pretty easily,” added Mulligan.
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