On Tuesday night, Republican Dan Bishop narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready by about 2 percentage points in a special election for a congressional seat in a deep red North Carolina district that Republicans have held since 1963. President Donald Trump, who stumped for Bishop in North Carolina’s Ninth District on Monday evening, reacted as though he had just orchestrated something akin to an improbable comeback in the Super Bowl.
“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night. Now it looks like he is going to win,” the president tweeted, before taking a gratuitous shot at the media.
Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night. Now it looks like he is going to win. @CNN & @MSNBC are moving their big studio equipment and talent out. Stay tuned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 11, 2019
On Wednesday, Trump used Bishop’s victory to make a case that polls showing him trailing in hypothetical head-to-head matchups against Democratic presidential candidates are wrong, tweeting, “Look at North Carolina last night. Dan Bishop, down big in the Polls, WINS. Easier than 2016!”
But there’s just one problem; there’s not a shred of evidence that Bishop ever trailed McCready by 17 points. Not even close.
Why Trump’s gloating is preposterous, briefly explained
Trump won North Carolina’s Ninth by 12 points in 2016, but his approval rating in the state has slid by 20 points since his inauguration. And making matters even more difficult for Bishop was the fact that 2018 election for the Ninth District seat was rocked by a ballot stuffing scandal that led to incumbent Republican Mark Harris vacating the seat.
McCready, who had lost the tainted 2018 contest to Harris by less than 2 points, ran again, teeing up the battle of the Dans and another uphill fight for himself.
Still, the few polls that were conducted in the Ninth leading up to Tuesday’s election indicated that the Bishop-McCready race was basically a dead heat. A July 31 Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll found the race tied, while an RRH Elections one released on September 3 found Bishop ahead by 1 percentage point. Other polls found McCready slightly ahead. But none of them found McCready leading by anything close to the 17 points Trump claimed in his tweet on Tuesday.
It can be risky to extrapolate too much from special elections, which can have lower turnout than elections in normal years, but prominent pollsters are actually interpreting Bishop’s narrow win as bad news for Republicans heading into 2020. As Amber Phillips wrote for the Washington Post:
Bishop’s win portends trouble for Republicans. After the 2016 elections, there are about 60 fewer Republican-leaning districts, based on the Cook Political Report’s partisan ranking. We’re not saying Democrats can suddenly win all of those, but the fact they got close to winning in this Republican stronghold, which has sent a Republican to Congress for the past 50 years, recasts what’s possible for them in 2020.
It’s the same way the Democrats’ loss in some special elections before the 2018 midterms was actually a harbinger of good news for them.
Trump, however, has a long history of using election results — even when Republicans lose — to glorify himself. For instance, after Republicans lost 40 House seats during last November’s midterm elections, Trump took credit for his party gaining two seats in the Senate, while suggesting that the Republicans who lost just weren’t up to snuff.
Trump takes credit for Republicans gaining 2 seats in Senate last November, but says about the House "not all of our candidates were exactly great." (Republicans lost 40 seats in the House) pic.twitter.com/AL7ibqjzfs— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 2, 2019
Similarly, in previous special elections that resulted in Republicans losing after Trump campaigned for them, the president’s talking point was that the losses would’ve been even worse without him.
In speech to Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Trump takes credit for Saccone not losing by more votes than he did last week in Pennsylvania.— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 21, 2018
"We went in there, they were down - good man, Rick Saccone, didn't quite make it, but think of it -- lost by about 300 votes" pic.twitter.com/yP16JdIwSb
In Bishop’s case, Trump’s Monday night rally and other stump appearances for Bishop might have helped the state senator best known for introducing North Carolina’s bathroom bill clinch the House seat— but the president’s claim about how he helped him overcome a purported 17-point deficit is directly contradicted by the available polling.
Trump apparently feels no shame about it. And his tweet taking credit for Bishop’s victory wasn’t even the first time this week that he fabricated polling data in an attempt to glorify himself.