Donald Trump approached his New Hampshire primary victory speech Tuesday night with his typical off-the-cuff candor. But every so often he backed up his vague rallying cries and cited hard facts — facts that were largely based on nothing.
Here are three times Trump made some blatant exaggerations.
1) Nearly half of America might be unemployed, says Trump
"I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created," Trump said Tuesday. "Remember that. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 percent and 5 percent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think — if we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we'd have these gatherings?"
Trump's distrust of labor statistics may be founded in the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates unemployment rates. Every month BLS releases unemployment numbers dividing the number of people out of work but actively looking for a job by the labor force (the sum of unemployed and employed people). It is important to note that this unemployment number does not include the subset of jobless people not actively seeking employment.
Trump's skepticism toward the 4.9 percent unemployment number (BLS's most recent measurement of the country's labor force) is likely because of that group of people not currently looking for work. He's not alone — some economists think they should be included in the unemployment calculations, and even BLS releases a typically higher number, which accounts for the people who want to work but have not looked for a job recently enough to count as unemployed.
But his estimates, even if we include this other category, are very high. Where did Trump "hear" this 42 percent number? PolitiFact, which gave Trump's statement a Pants on Fire rating, traced it back to a 2015 column by President Ronald Reagan's budget director, David Stockman.
Stockman used actual hours worked divided by a theoretical maximum that could have been worked, which when calculated gets you something around 42 percent unemployment. But the calculation has flaws. It counts voluntary part-time workers as unemployed and doesn't allow for stay-at-home parents, retirees, or the disabled.
So, yes, there are other ways to calculate unemployment (BLS admits this). But the one Trump heard about is too flawed to take seriously. Nearly half the country is not unemployed.
2) Trump will solve the US debt problem
Trump characterized President Obama's budget as recklessly in the red, suggesting the American government's debt is spiraling out of control.
"What's going on? The budget. The last budget that was approved is an absolute disaster for everybody in this country," Trump said. "We owe $19 trillion as of today. We just crossed the $19 trillion mark. We're going to very shortly be at $21 trillion because of the budget."
There are good reasons to worry about our growing debt, and nonpartisan groups have voiced concerns about the United States' long-term fiscal outlook.
But the idea that debt is a critical issue that must be tackled now doesn't pass muster. For one, interest rates are at near record lows — so investors are practically giving away money to the government, and deficit spending is unusually cheap.
Moreover, Trump's policies are widely estimated by economists to make America's debt much worse. Trump is calling for massive tax cuts — cuts expected to add $11.2 trillion to the national debt over the following decade, according to the Tax Policy Center's analysis. He has not made clear how he plans to pay for these tax cuts, suggesting a willingness to blow a big new hole in the federal debt he claims to lament.
3) Building a wall on the Mexican border will solve New Hampshire's drug problem
"We're going to build a wall. It's going to be built. It's not even — believe it or not — it's not even a difficult thing to do," Trump said to a cheering auditorium. "And, by the way, for the people of New Hampshire where you have a tremendous problem with heroin and drugs, the first thing they mention, ‘Please do something because there's so much of it; it's so cheap.’ We're going to end it. We're going to end it at the southern border. It's going to be over."
Trump's claim about building a wall has already been widely debunked as both not easy and unlikely that we can get Mexico to foot the bill. But, more importantly, Trump's assertion that building a wall will be the definitive end to America's drug problem — particularly in New Hampshire — is a more egregious exaggeration.
The Drug Enforcement Agency and US Customs and Border Protection are already seizing an incredible amount of drugs at the Mexican border, and by their own admission the flow of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs is as high as ever. Since 2001, the number of border patrol agents has increased nearly twofold, and drug seizures have increased by 31 percent in the past 2.5 years.
Between 2005 and 2011, US Customs and Border Protection seized 7,400 pounds of heroin at ports of entry on the US-Mexico border, according to reporting from the Center for Investigative Reporting. It also seized 13.2 million pounds of marijuana, 161,000 pounds of cocaine, and 32,000 pounds of methamphetamine during that same time period.
All these busts have not slowed the flow of illegal drugs, however. In 2011, the yearly haul of heroin was more than six times that of 2005's. An interactive map of drug seizure data can be found here. And as many candidates have pointed out, there's still a serious problem with heroin addiction in New Hampshire, which doesn't seem to be stemmed at all by this stepped-up enforcement.
Trump is right to say that Mexico is helping feed America's drug habit, but securing the borders is not a definitive solution to ending the flow of drugs into the states.