Abortion, Trump, Ukraine: What Republican candidates got wrong at the inaugural primary

Abortion, Trump, Ukraine: What Republican candidates got wrong at the inaugural primary

By: rahul adhikari&
annet preethi furtado&
August 25 2023

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Abortion, Trump, Ukraine: What Republican candidates got wrong at the inaugural primary

(Source: Reuters)

Ahead of the 2024 U.S. presidential elections, the primary season opened on Wednesday,  August 23, with the inaugural Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, hosted by Fox News. A total of eight contenders sustained their campaigns, each aiming to secure the Republican nomination, with former President Donald Trump choosing to give the debate a miss. While Trump is leading with the most support amongst Republican primary voters, his eight opponents jockeyed for second place as the Republican nominee.

The roster of participants included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, ex-Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, former Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

The candidates brawled over topics ranging from COVID-19 to abortion laws and climate change. Here's a fact-check on what all these participants got wrong. 

Mike Pence: 70 percent of the American people support a 15-week abortion ban.

This claim is misleading. 

Several surveys have been conducted on the topic of the legality of abortions and while several show resistance to abortion after the first trimester, none of them back Pence’s claim of 70 percent.

A June 2023 poll by Gallup (sample: 1,011 U.S. adults) found that 37 percent spoke in favor of abortion in the second trimester and 22 percent in the last trimester. According to a survey by Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. adults, 34 percent of the respondents strongly opposed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks and 12 percent somewhat opposed it, while 18 percent strongly supported such a law, with 21 percent somewhat supported it.

A July 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that approximately half of Americans say abortions should be permitted at the 15-week mark. Meanwhile, 55 percent of respondents from the most restrictive states voted for banning abortion by that point. According to a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll conducted in April 2023, 44 percent of Americans said abortion should be allowed up until 24 weeks. 

Meanwhile, a Marquette Law School poll from July 2023 found that 47 percent Americans favor a ban after 15 weeks, while 53 percent oppose it. 

None of these surveys show a number close to 70 percent, as quoted by Pence. 

Ron DeSantis: Florida’s crime rate is at a 50-year low.

DeSantis made the same claim while announcing his presidential bid in May 2023. However, this claim is based on incomplete data. 

In December 2022, Tampa Bay Times published a report noting discrepancies after state officials published 2021 data and claimed that crime had fallen to a 50-year-low. The state crime report was released as Florida’s law enforcement agencies were transitioning to methodology to gather crime statistics. The report (that claimed this drop) was based on the old methodology, thereby leaving out agencies which submitted data using the new methodology. Of 404 agencies, the data from only 239 agencies was included and compared to the 2020 figures. 

According to a report by non-profit The Marshall Project, national participation by Florida is also low, making it difficult to compare crime rates of the state to others. Reportedly, only 49 agencies (less than 8 percent) from Florida were included in an FBI federal database in 2021.

Tim Scott: We keep seeing not only the weaponization of the Department of Justice against political opponents but also against parents who show up at school board meetings. They’re called domestic terrorists.

The claim originates from an incident, when the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden on September 29, 2021, requesting federal assistance against threats targeting the public school students and officials. Describing the threats, the NSBA letter stated, "As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes." 

In response, on October 4, 2021, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo to the FBI and federal prosecutors, urging the federal government to take action on threats against members of local school boards. 

The memo didn’t use the word “domestic terrorists” but it was the NSBA letter that equated the threats to a form of “domestic terrorism.” The association later apologized for the language used in the letter, took steps to change its executive director, and launched a review into the letter.

Nikki Haley: The U.S. is spending less than three and a half percent of the U.S. defense budget on Ukraine aid, and in terms of GDP, 11 of the European countries have given more than the U.S.

The former Governor of South Carolina’s statement is partly false. 

Until August 14, the U.S. has committed over $43 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since the onset of the conflict in the region. In contrast, the defense budget allocated for Fiscal Year 2023 is $858 billion. Therefore, the U.S. expenditure was close to 5 percent of the defense budget, rather than the 3.5 percent, as Haley quoted.

However, it is true that the U.S.’ contribution remains lower than that of EU countries.  In June 2023, the Council on Foreign Relations reported that, as of May 2023, a total of 11 nations, with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland taking the lead, were providing a larger share of aid to Ukraine in relation to their GDP than the U.S.

Mike Pence: We secured the southern border of the United States of America and reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90 percent. When Joe Biden took over, he threw open the southern border of the United States...

Under the Trump administration, there was a significant surge in apprehensions at the southwestern border. According to U.S. Customs Border Protection data, the numbers climbed to 8,51,508 in 2019 as opposed to 303,916 in 2017. However, there was a notable change in this trend, marked by a significant drop in apprehensions to approximately 4,00,651 over the entire fiscal year 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdowns.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant global reduction in immigration as governments implemented measures to restrict people's mobility. As the pandemic gained a foothold in the U.S., the Trump administration implemented Title 42, an emergency health authority initiated in March 2020 that empowered U.S. officials to reject migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, citing the imperative of curbing the transmission of COVID-19. 

Moreover, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection altered its methodology for tallying apprehensions amid the pandemic. Before the pandemic, their reporting encompassed enforcement actions solely within immigration law; however, their data during the pandemic encompassed actions taken under both immigration law and public health policy. This makes direct comparisons challenging due to including individuals expelled due to health policies.

Under President Biden's administration, although border crossings reached record highs during his initial two years in office, they have predominantly decreased throughout the majority of 2023, with an increase occurring in June. Over two million migrants were swiftly either turned away or apprehended at the border in the past year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis: In Florida, we eliminated critical race theory from our K-12 schools.

Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic framework rooted in the belief that racial bias/discrimination is systemic in the United States. In April 2023, Florida's Department of Education declined to approve 42 math textbooks, asserting that certain materials encompassed elements of critical race theory. Subsequently, the agency disclosed four pages extracted from these textbooks to illustrate the content it found objectionable. 

The New York Times reviewed sample content from one rejected publisher and found lessons meant to build “self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and social awareness and relationship skills."

In August 2023, PolitiFact contacted nine Florida public school districts: Broward, Collier, Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, and St. Lucie counties. Each of these districts confirmed that CRT was not included in their curriculum. 

Kelsey Whealy, spokesperson for Sarasota County Schools, stated to PolitiFact, "Our traditional public schools have not taught, were not teaching, and do not teach critical race theory — it is not a part of the K-12 state standards." Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the largest teacher's union in the state, conveyed to PolitiFact, "CRT is a law-school concept, and teachers have been saying all along, it isn’t taught in K-12 here and never was."

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