Former President Donald Trump on Sunday delivered his first major address since leaving office, and he picked up right where he left off: attacking opponents and spreading false claims, including that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Trump’s inaccuracies in his speech at the close of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, were largely nothing new. It was mostly well-worn material pulled from the grievances and gripes that have filled time at his rallies since his political career began in 2015.
Sarah Longwell, a Trump critic and executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, called the speech a “boring, warmed-over version of his greatest hits.”
But Trump’s unrepentant repetition of his election fraud claims was noteworthy in light of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Trump didn’t mention. And his old attacks on wind energy added overblown claims that it was responsible for Texas’ recent power outages.
The election was ‘rigged’
Unfounded claims of election fraud are a staple of Trump’s politics. He launched baseless claims of stolen elections in 2012, the 2016 primaries and general election, the 2018 midterms, the 2020 Democratic primaries, and the Nov. 3 election that made him a one-term president.
He planted the seeds of election doubt months before the votes were tallied, declaring in August, “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
His 2020 fraud claims culminated with his historic second impeachment after the Democrat-controlled House approved an article charging him with inciting the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. A majority of senators agreed, though not the two-thirds needed to convict him.
On Sunday, Trump doubled down:
Trump claim: “Had we had a fair election, the results would have been much different.”
The facts: All 50 states certified the election results, and both state and federal judges (including Trump appointees) rejected scores of court challenges from the Trump campaign. Though isolated cases of fraud and irregularities were uncovered (as they are in every election) none came anywhere near the widespread level that would have been required to alter the result.
Trump claim: “The Democrats used the China virus as an excuse to change all of the election rules without the approval of their state legislatures, making it therefore illegal.”
The facts: Many states, including some controlled by Republicans, expanded mail-in voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Those changes were sparked by the very real concerns about the threat posed by the virus, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
The U.S. Constitution leaves the manner of how elections are conducted to state legislatures. While in most cases the changes to mail-in voting were not directly approved by state legislatures, those legislatures had empowered their respective secretaries of state to make such emergency changes through legislation they approved.
Trump claim: “This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.” (Prompting chants of “you won” from the crowd.)
The facts: The courts consistently dismissed the election challenges filed by the Trump campaign. Though most of the dismissals were based on a lack of “standing,” a fact Trump lamented in his speech, others were rejected on merits, meaning they did not present sufficient evidence of fraud to convince the judge to throw out the results.
The Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas – and joined by other GOP-controlled states – that sought to throw out the results from four swing states won by Biden. The high court declared Texas did not demonstrate a “judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.” Though Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said the court should have heard the case, they said it would not have granted Texas’ request to change the election.
The Supreme Court also declined to hear two cases challenging Pennsylvania’s absentee ballots. One case did not involve enough ballots to affect the outcome and the other challenging a state law passed in 2019 was determined by the state Supreme Court to have come far too late. Even if the court had granted the extraordinary request to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes, Joe Biden would still have won the Electoral College votes needed to become president.
Trump claim: “We seem to have more votes than we have people” in Detroit, and “In Pennsylvania, they had hundreds of thousands of more votes than they had people voting.”
The facts: As of last year’s census estimate, Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, had a voting-age population of 503,934. According to the city clerk’s website, 250,138 Detroit residents voted in the election.
Numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of State show that over 2.6 million mail-in ballots were counted after more than 3 million voters requested mail ballots by the Oct. 27 deadline. In total, about 6.9 million votes were counted in Pennsylvania’s presidential election and the number of registered Pennsylvania voters in 2020 was just over 9 million.
17 key fact checks:Michigan was a hotbed for election-related misinformation
‘Windmill calamity’ behind Texas power outages
Trump has railed against “windmills” since at least 2012 when he began a quest to block the installation of turbines near his golf club in Aberdeen, Scotland. (He means wind turbines, windmills are used to grind grain.)
His criticisms of wind power are sometimes rooted in fact, (they do kill hundreds of thousands of birds every year, for example, though far fewer than the billions killed by cats) but other times they seem to be pulled out of thin air (such as his claims that the noise they generate causes cancer).
On Sunday, he blamed the recent power outages in Texas that came with an unexpectedly cold winter storm on a “windmill calamity.”
Trump claim: “It’s a disaster. The blackouts we saw in California last summer, and all the time, and the windmill calamity that we’re witnessing in Texas. Great state of Texas. We love Texas, but it’s so sad when you look at it, that’ll just be the start. How bad is wind power?”
The facts: Traditional sources of energy such as natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems, were responsible for nearly twice as many outages in Texas as frozen wind turbines and solar panels, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.
The grid operator reported that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide during the winter storm, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources – gas, coal and nuclear plants – and 16,000 came from renewable sources. Wind only supplies about a quarter of the electricity in Texas.
Contributing: David Jackson, USA TODAY; Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press