Trump pushed at least 35 lies that went unchallenged by Chris Wallace during the first debate

Debate moderators cannot remain “invisible” or it will backfire

Chris Wallace and Donald Trump
Molly Butler/Media Matters | Photo cred: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

The first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden drew international criticism for quickly devolving into chaos, largely due to Trump’s constant interrupting and badgering and the constant barrage of lies coming from him. Though Trump is a known liar, moderator Chris Wallace said ahead of the debate that he planned “to be as invisible as possible.” This strategy largely failed, as dozens of Trump’s lies went unchecked, allowing the debate to serve as a platform for Trump to amplify misinformation. 

As we look toward tonight’s vice presidential debate, here are at least 35 times that Trump clearly lied throughout the debate -- full transcripts are available here and here -- and did not receive adequate pushback or fact-checking from Wallace:

1. Trump lied about the prevalence of preexisting conditions among Americans

Trump said, “There aren’t 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.” A recent study from health-care consulting firm Avalere found that “102 million individuals, not enrolled in major public programs like Medicaid or Medicare, have a pre-existing medical condition and could therefore face higher premiums or significant out-of-pocket costs if the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections were repealed.” 

2. Trump lied about the price of insulin

Trump claimed that he has made insulin “so cheap, it’s like water.” In reality, insulin still costs roughly $300 a vial, and many patients require multiple vials per month. 

3. Trump lied that his administration is lowering drug prices 

Trump said that thanks to his administration, “drug prices will be coming down, 80 or 90%.” There is currently no evidence to support this claim, and brand-name drug prices are actually rising.

4. Trump lied about banning travel from China and Europe at the start of the coronavirus pandemic

Trump told Biden, “You didn’t want me to ban China, which was heavily infected. You didn’t want me to ban Europe.” In reality, Trump didn’t fully ban travel from those countries; he imposed travel restrictions with various exemptions, including for U.S. citizens, green card holders, and people from certain countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland.

5. Trump lied about the impact of his COVID-19 travel restrictions

Trump argued that “millions of people would have died" in the United States without his travel restrictions. In reality, experts have said that there is little evidence to suggest Trump’s travel restrictions drastically reduced the spread of the virus, as they came too late, they targeted the wrong areas, and many other efforts were needed. 

6. Trump lied about Biden’s handling of the H1N1 swine flu 

Trump told Biden, “You didn’t do very well in swine flu. H1N1, you were a disaster. Your own chief-of-staff said you were a disaster.” While Biden had little involvement in the administration response to the swine flu, President Barack Obama’s administration has received relatively high remarks for its handling — “there's little contemporaneous reporting on the Obama administration's response that portrays the kind of unmitigated disaster Trump is suggesting occurred.” 

7. Trump lied about how Biden’s health care plan would treat private insurance

Trump claimed that Biden’s health care plan will “extinguish 180 million people with their private health care.” Biden’s plan would provide Americans with the option of buying into a “Medicare-like” plan or keeping their private insurance. Biden has also rejected Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) proposal of a “Medicare for All” single-payer plan.

8. Trump lied about how his administration’s health care plan would treat preexisting conditions

Trump claimed that his health care plan “guaranteed pre-existing conditions but took away the individual mandate.” In reality, the cheaper plans that Trump is referring to are cheaper because they do not guarantee coverage for preexisting conditions, along with skimping on benefits like maternal care and prescription drug coverage.

9. Trump lied about Biden’s memory of where he went to college

Trump repeated a right-wing lie that Biden once claimed he went to Delaware State, a historically Black university. The moment that Trump is referring to has been taken out of context; in fact, Biden was talking about campaigning at the school.

10. Trump lied about his dangerous comments about injecting disinfectant to prevent COVID-19

Trump claimed that he was being sarcastic when he suggested injecting disinfectant to prevent COVID-19 back in April. This has become a common defense for Trump regarding these comments, but there is “simply no indication that he was being anything less than serious” when he made the remarks.

11. Trump lied about progress on a COVID-19 vaccine

Trump claimed that we’re “weeks away from a vaccine.” In reality, scientists have cast doubt on the possibility of a vaccine clearing scientific and bureaucratic obstacles before the election.

12. Trump lied about his rallies during COVID-19 

Trump claimed that “we’ve had no negative effect” from his rallies, and he also claimed that his rallies have all been held outside (which Wallace agreed with). All of these claims are false; several campaign staffers have tested positive after the rallies, and Tulsa’s top health official said his Oklahoma rally “likely contributed” to a subsequent surge. Several of Trump’s rallies have been held inside, including one earlier in September in Nevada.

13. Trump lied about bringing back Big Ten football

Trump said: “I brought it back Big Ten football. It was me, and I’m very happy to do it.” Earlier this month, a Big Ten Conference university president said that “Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations.”

14. Trump lied about how much he paid in federal income tax

Trump claimed that he paid “millions of dollars” in response to a question about how much federal income tax he paid in 2016 and 2017, when The New York Times reported that he paid $750. Trump has still provided no evidence for his claim; the Times obtained over two decades of Trump’s tax return data.

15. Trump lied about bringing back manufacturing jobs

Trump claimed that he “brought back 700,000 jobs.” In reality, Trump had brought back about half a million manufacturing jobs prior to the pandemic but about 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost during the pandemic.

16. Trump lied about an economic recovery

Trump defended his argument that the country is experiencing a V-shaped recovery regarding COVID-19, arguing that the U.S. has added 10.6 million jobs in the last four months. This is misleading, as 22 million jobs were lost in March and April.

17. Trump lied about Bernie Sanders

Trump claimed that Biden “agreed with Bernie Sanders” on a “manifesto” that would provide “socialized medicine.” In reality, Biden has rejected Sanders’ proposal for single-payer Medicare for All, opting for a plan that would add a public option. The “manifesto” Trump was likely referring to is a joint task force formed by the Biden campaign earlier this year that included Sanders, as well as a number of Democrats.

18. Trump lied about crime rates in Democratic-run cities

Trump said that crime is a “party issue” and that crime rates are up in Democratic-run cities, mentioning increases of 100% to 200%. While overall violent-crime rates have remained relatively flat this year, homicide rates have risen in cities run by both parties. Democratic-led cities have seen a homicide rate increase of 29%, while Republican-led cities have seen a 26% rise. 

19. Trump lied about housing policy under Biden to scare suburbanites

Trump repeated his common fearmongering that the suburbs would be “gone” under a Biden presidency, in a blaring dog whistle. This is obviously untrue, and Trump is referring to an anti-segregation housing rule adopted under the Obama administration.

20. Trump lied about Obama’s efforts to confirm judges

Trump suggested that Obama and Biden “left me 128 judges to fill,” saying they couldn't be a “good president” or a “good vice president” because they did that. In reality, Obama left 104 vacancies, many due to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Obama’s nominations.

21. Trump lied about Hunter Biden’s employment history

Trump said that Hunter Biden “didn’t have a job until [Biden] became vice president.” This is flatly untrue and easily verifiable by looking at Hunter’s employment history.

22. Trump lied about his environmental priorities

While discussing climate change, Trump claimed that he wants “crystal clean water and air.” In fact, the Trump administration has helped to weaken regulations limiting water and air pollution.

23. Trump lied about California’s wildfires

During a discussion about climate change, Trump claimed, “Every year I get the call. ‘California’s burning.’ … If you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn’t be getting those calls.” Climate change has been linked to the increasingly damaging wildfires in California, and a limited focus on forest management obscures this fact.

24. Trump lied about fuel economy standards 

Trump claimed that his administration’s efforts to reduce fuel economy standards have made cars safer and less expensive. In fact, experts have previously expressed skepticism about the Trump administration’s reasoning on both of these points. Additionally, Trump’s claims ignore the additional economic costs imposed due to increased pollution.

25. Trump lied about cows and the Green New Deal

Trump lied that supporters of the Green New Deal want to eliminate cows. The Green New Deal does not call for eliminating cows. 

26. Trump lied about electric cars

Trump claimed he was “all for electric cars” and electric-car incentives, but the Trump administration previously tried to eliminate a tax incentive for electric-car buyers.

27. Trump lied about Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Trump claimed the Clean Power Plan had increased energy prices, but most of the plan never took effect because it was blocked by a Supreme Court decision before being repealed by the Trump administration.

28. Trump lied about the cost of the Green New Deal

Trump repeated a popular right-wing media talking point that falsely claims the Green New Deal would cost $100 trillion. The number is a misrepresentation from a conservative think tank and has long been debunked.

29. Trump lied about voting in a New York congressional race

Trump told Biden to “take a look at Carolyn Maloney’s race” for evidence of voter fraud related to mail-in ballots. Trump is referring to Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (D-NY) primary race earlier this year, which her opponent, Suraj Patel, referred to as “a canary in the coal mine” for election chaos. However, as Patel emphasized during the debate, the issue was “disenfranchisement, not voter fraud. More than 1 in 5 ballots were discarded, many multiples of the final margin.”

30. Trump lied about a “coup”

Trump said that the Obama administration spied on his campaign and “came after me trying to do a coup.” In reality, the Justice Department found that the FBI had enough information to launch the Russia investigation, and evidence still doesn’t support right-wing media’s yearslong “deep state” conspiracy theory that Trump is referencing.

31. Trump lied about racial sensitivity trainings 

Trump said that he ended federal racial sensitivity training because it’s “racist” and that “they were teaching people that our country is a horrible place.” Racial sensitivity trainings address topics like white privilege and critical race theory, and historians, advocates for racial justice, and racial sensitivity trainers argued that Trump is whitewashing racism in America’s past and present, and that this could move the country backward on issues of equity.

32. Trump lied about violence at protests

Trump claimed that “almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not the right-wing,” in terms of protests and violence and that “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.” FBI Director Christopher Wray recently testified that antifa is an “ideology,” not a movement or organization. Additionally, while no one arrested during protests has been formally charged by the Department of Justice with connections to antifa, the country has seen multiple instances of right-wing extremist violence.

33. Trump lied about the pre-coronavirus economy

Trump claimed that he “had to close the greatest economy in the history of our country” due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pre-COVID economy was worse than previous economies in measures including inequality and unemployment rates for men aged 25-54.

34. Trump lied about whether the Portland sheriff supports him

Trump lied that the Portland sheriff “just came out today and he said, ‘I support President Trump.’” In fact, the sheriff of Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes Portland, responded to the claim with a tweet clarifying that he does not support Trump.

35. Trump lied about how many ballots are lost

Trump claimed, “Take a look at what happened in Manhattan. Take a look at what happened in New Jersey. Take a look at what happened in Virginia and other places. They’re not losing 2%, 1%, which by the way is too much. An election can be won or lost with that. They’re losing 30 and 40%. It’s a fraud, and it’s a shame.” According to CBS News, no state has ever reported losing such a high percentage of ballots in an election and it is unclear whom Trump is accusing of having lost the ballots.