With the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) now drawn to a close, there is plenty of analysis to go over, regarding what speakers said and what went down at the event.
This includes numerous statements from former President Donald Trump, who made his first public speech since leaving the White House in Orlando, Florida, this past weekend.
Rather than focusing on just one statement, it might be worth going over a few of them, from Trump and others, to illustrate how much misinformation happened at CPAC (and beyond).
For this fact check, we’ll do things just a bit differently, then, and look at three dubious statements made at the annual conference of conservative political minds.
Ted Cruz slams Capitol fencing as “theater”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) received several condemnations for his traveling to Cancun, Mexico, while his home state was dealing with a natural disaster that saw dozens die and millions more struggle without power or drinkable water. So it was perhaps in bad taste for him to open his CPAC speech with this somewhat crass joke:
I got to say Orlando is awesome. It’s not as nice as Cancun, but it’s nice.
Cruz made a number of other off-color remarks during his speech, including complaining that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who detailed her own personal horrors of the attack on the U.S. Capitol building in January, said that she was “murdered” during the ordeal.
— Poli Alert (@polialertcom) February 26, 2021
Ocasio-Cortez, in fact, never made such claims, but some could possibly defend Cruz by saying he was exaggerating to make a point. Regarding the security that remains at the Capitol right now, however, Cruz did make another claim that requires closer inspection.
“The US Capitol has giant fences with razor wires and 5,000 National Guard standing out front because the Democrats are convinced that political theater helps them,” he said. “Let’s be clear, this is not about security at this point. This is about political theater.”
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In truth, the fencing is up because the security forces in charge of keeping lawmakers safe (Capitol police and more) have determined there’s a real need for it. There remains chatter among extremists, in fact, to continue the attacks that happened on January 6, and to do real harm to Senators, House members, and other staff inside the building.
These extremists have expressed a desire to “blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address, acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said last month before Congress. The fencing is currently allowing security detail to keep the building safe for the time being — likely, for a few months, even.
Based on the information Pittman and other agencies have received, “we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture,” she added.
Trump “Golden Statue” prayer picture?
Another bizarre thing that happened at CPAC didn’t have to do with a speech at all. Rather, a golden statue of Trump was rolled out into the building, which prompted many fans to want to get their picture taken with it.
— Scott Huffman (@HuffmanForNC) February 26, 2021
The statue was real, and it prompted comparisons to the parable of “the golden calf” found in biblical texts, as Trump and his supporters, many who claim to be ardent Christians, were in direct violation of that passage and one of the Ten Commandments.
That prompted this picture, of several conservative religious figures praying around the statue, to go viral:
Golden Calf much? pic.twitter.com/kRpFd8gv5b
— Matt Rogers 🗳 (@Politidope) February 28, 2021
Is this a real picture? It is, in fact, a doctored image.
The real image is a photo still from a video of Trump with a group of religious figures who did indeed meet to pray for him, and placed their hands on him as they made their prayers.
The event from which the photo originated happened in early 2020. Someone photoshopped the image of the Trump golden statue, and superimposed it on Trump to produce the picture of the faith leaders praying with their hands on it instead.
The original video, via NBC News:
So to review: the image of the statue itself actually is real. It appeared at CPAC, and many indeed got their photos taken with it. But the image of religious conservative leaders surrounding and praying by the statue is phony.
Trump (wrongly) maintains he won the election
Trump’s speech at CPAC was long-awaited by many who were curious about what he was planning to say. It was reported last week that Trump was going to position himself as the leader of the GOP, and suggest he is the presumptive candidate for president in the Republican Party in 2024.
Indeed, Trump did make comments suggesting he would be running again, stating that he would win a “third” time four years from now.
To win a third time, however, Trump would have had to have won twice before. He’s only won the presidency once, through the Electoral College in 2016, and lost his reelection campaign to Biden in 2020 (though notably, he failed to win the popular vote in both contests).
So what’s Trump talking about? The former president is still holding true to his false claims of having actually won in 2020 against Biden.
When asking rhetorically to the crowd if Biden had won, Trump answered “no.” Trump said elsewhere in the speech that it was “not possible” that he lost, too.
To back these claims up, Trump cited the fact that 18 out of 19 bellwether counties — places that are usually dependable for predicting who is going to win an election — went for him, but he still lost the race anyway.
“In November, 18 of 19 bellwether counties, you heard about the bellwether counties? 18 of 19 bellwether counties that have correctly predicted every presidential election for decades. Many decades, voted for Trump, not for Biden,” the former president said.
This has been explained already, however. The elections statistics site FiveThirtyEight.com looked into this matter in early February, and found that those 19 counties shifted tremendously in demographics — in particular, they became much whiter.
The Trump era made us rethink a lot about politics and elections in America, including the counties that are useful barometers of the national political environment. And like so many electoral trends, demographics play a major role in explaining why these once-bellwether counties finally missed the mark in 2020.
These former bellwether counties are much whiter and less college-educated than the country as a whole
White voters without a college degree used to vote more like the country as a whole, which helps explain why these counties maintained their bellwether status for a long time. … But that changed in 2016 when Trump made huge gains with white voters without a college degree. As such, the margins in bellwether counties became substantially more Republican even as the country only became a little more Republican.
In fact, this isn’t such a rare thing: bellwether counties come and go. A total of 16 bellwether counties, many which hadn’t incorrectly chosen the wrong candidate in decades, did so in 2016, when Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton won all 16 of them but still lost the election to Trump.
CPAC was rife with lies, mistruths, exaggerations, and other statements from speakers that did more than just bend the truth a little. The three fact checks from above showcase how some of these lies were meant to create partisan strife, to create confusion (and anger) among those who were meant to believe them.
Fences around the Capitol are not “political theater,” but telling people they are causes them to laugh at those who believe they’re a necessary precaution. Political faith leaders didn’t pray to a golden image of Trump, but pushing the idea that they did so likely made many people’s jaws drop. And Trump himself, pushing the “big lie” that the election in 2020 was itself fraudulent, is hoping to continue making his base of supporters’ blood boil long after Biden has already been sworn into office, and for him, hopefully until 2024.
These lies, and many more like them, need to be called out when they are made. Allowing them to go unchallenged creates a false impression to the millions of people that buy into them that they’re true.