President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign 17 months ago at a rally in Orlando, Florida, nearly four years to the day after he launched his first White House bid with a speech in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City.
Back in 2015, Trump was a real estate developer-turned-reality television star making his first run for elected office. His first campaign centered on immigration, trade and the economy. Those topics have dominated Trump’s presidency as well, and have figured prominently in the 2020 general election against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee. But the election has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and months of protests over racial injustice, putting health care and a national conversation around race front and center.
As president, Trump has been known to switch positions, making it hard to pin down where he stands on an issue at any given time. But after three-plus years in office, Trump does have a track record on a broad range of topics, from immigration to health care, climate change to foreign affairs.
Immigration: Reduce illegal immigration, reform legal immigration system
Trump has said undocumented migrants drain social services, take jobs away from Americans, and bring crime to the United States, though data suggests otherwise, and he has taken numerous steps as president to fulfill his 2016 campaign promises to reduce both legal and illegal immigration. The Trump administration changed the rules to make it harder for people to claim asylum in the U.S., and instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president forced a federal government shutdown at the end of 2018 and declared a national emergency to obtain funding to start building a wall on the southern border, a signature issue that he claims will strengthen security and deter people from trying to enter the country illegally. Several hundred miles of new border barriers have been built or repaired during Trump’s presidency, but the federal government has paid for the work — not Mexico, as Trump promised on the campaign trail four years ago.
Law enforcement agencies under Trump have stepped up enforcement efforts in the interior of the country, including workplace raids targeting undocumented migrants for deportation. Soon after taking office, Trump blocked visitors from several majority-Muslim countries by executive order; after a lengthy legal battle, the courts ultimately upheld a limited version of the plan. Critics argued that the travel ban was an unconstitutional policy targeting immigrants based on their religion, while Trump argued the move would protect the country from potential terrorism, despite the fact that there was no history of terrorists coming to the U.S. from any of the banned nations.
Last year, Trump proposed creating a “merit-based” system that would prioritize accepting migrants who have specific jobs skills, instead of those with “family ties” who have relatives living in the U.S. The proposal would fundamentally transform immigration policy, but has not gained traction in Congress. Still, it underscores Trump’s belief that unchecked immigration represents a threat to U.S. prosperity and security.
Trump’s immigration policies and statements have often been criticized for being racist or xenophobic. In his presidential campaign announcement in 2015, Trump claimed without evidence that immigrants who entered the country illegally brought crime and drugs to the U.S. and called Mexican immigrants “rapists.” The remark set the tone for the rest of the campaign, which included an attack on a federal judge’s Mexican heritage that then-House Speaker Paul Ryan said was the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Later, after taking office, Trump questioned at a White House meeting why the U.S. would want immigrants from “sh*thole countries” in Africa and nations like Haiti.
More recently, in response to the pandemic, Trump banned travel from China — where the coronavirus was first detected — to the U.S., as well as immigration from some other countries. The president has claimed the ban on visitors from China saved thousands of lives. Critics argued the administration should have taken more action early on to curb the spread of the virus and that Trump’s frequent references to the virus as the “China flu” are racist.
Economy: Lower individual and corporate taxes, cut regulations, end trade deficits
Strengthening the economy by driving economic growth was a key part of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message in 2016. Trump pledged to eliminate Obama-era regulations on businesses, cut taxes, revive the manufacturing sector, boost domestic energy production, renegotiate trade agreements and take other steps to create new jobs.
As president, Trump has followed through on many of those pledges. His administration has slashed regulations on the financial, agricultural and energy sectors, among others, arguing that deregulation spurs economic growth. Manufacturing jobs went up initially under Trump, though the boom slowed after his first year in office. The coal industry stopped r shedding jobs after years of decline under President Barack Obama, though it hasn’t shown gains as more energy companies shift away from coal. In late 2017, Trump signed into law a Republican tax reform bill that slashed taxes for corporations, high-income earners and many middle-class families.
Trump’s approach to trade policy has drawn more criticism, including from members of his own party. Trump has consistently argued since the 1980s that trade deficits hurt the U.S. economy, and urged politicians to strike new deals with America’s leading trade partners, like China, Mexico and Canada. In office, Trump has followed through on his long-held views on trade, despite warnings from some economists, U.S. companies and lawmakers from both parties. Trump has placed tariffs on Chinese imports, sparking a protracted trade dispute, as well as imported steel and aluminum. His administration has renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, following through on his promise to replace NAFTA with a different deal, but the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement changes to the existing trade agreement were largely incremental..
The economy grew at a solid pace during Trump’s first three years in office, continuing the positive trajectory from Obama’s presidency. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate was under 4 percent, down from 4.7 percent the month Trump became president. The stock market has made record gains under Trump as well. The president took credit for the positive financial numbers on his watch — but while the economy was doing well before COVID-19, his claims that it was the “strongest” or “best” in U.S. history are false.
The economic growth of the past few years came to a screeching halt in March, when the U.S. declared a national public health crisis and states began shutting down to slow the coronavirus. During the first two months of the crisis, more than 20 million Americans filed jobless claims, an unprecedented spike. The unemployment rate went from 4.4 percent in March to 14.7 percent the following month. Congress responded by temporarily boosting unemployment insurance payments, funding to states and local governments, and providing eligible Americans with stimulus checks, among other measures.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, as businesses have reopened the unemployment rate has declined, and last month stood at 8.4 percent, still considerably higher than the rate Trump inherited in 2017. More than 800,000 people are filing jobless claims weekly, a sign the economy remains in flux heading into the final weeks of campaigning ahead of the election.
Health care: Undo Obamacare, cut drug prices, reform Medicaid
As a candidate and early on in his presidency, Trump adopted the Republican Party’s position on health care, which has centered on repealing Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, and replacing it with a new health care system that would still include the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions. The party’s broad goals include fewer regulations on insurance companies, offering consumers more freedom in choosing their health care plans, lowering insurance premiums, and generally limiting the federal government’s role in the health care sector.
During Trump’s first year in office in 2017, congressional Republicans tried to undo Obamacare but fell short, dealing Trump one of his biggest legislative setbacks as president. Still, the GOP under Trump has succeeded in undoing key parts of the health care law. The 2017 tax overhaul eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate. The Trump administration also ended subsidies to help low-income people afford health insurance, and cut payments to insurance companies to cover sick patients. The health care law is being challenged again this fall in the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump signed an executive order Sept. 24 that set out to protect coverage of preexisting conditions, but experts say it lacks specifics and that those kinds of protections are only possible through legislative, not legal, action.
In 2018, the Trump administration gave states permission to place work requirements on recipients of Medicaid, the government’s health care program for low-income people. Several states have implemented the change, fulfilling a decades-long Republican goal of scaling back Medicaid spending. The move doubled as an attack on the Affordable Care Act, which had allowed states to expand Medicaid coverage to millions of Americans. Trump has also promised to lower drug prices, and the administration has taken some steps to address the issue, such as requiring pharmaceutical companies to list drug prices in television ads, though a deal between the administration and drug companies recently fell through.
Coronavirus: Get and keep the economy reopened. Prioritize a vaccine.
This year the debate around health care has focused on the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has touted his efforts, often singling out the high rate of testing in the country. More than 100 million tests for the virus have been administered in the U.S. so far this year.
But more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and the number continues to grow. More than 7 million people in the country have been infected. Critics have argued that the federal government should have acted more aggressively early on to ramp-up testing, provide health care workers and the public with personal protective equipment such as masks, and implement stricter guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks among the general public.
Trump’s message on the virus has often been at odds with his top medical and science advisers. He has questioned mask use and has rarely worn one in public. He has at times framed certain public health guidelines at odds with helping the economy bounce back. The president has held campaign rallies attended by several thousand people, flouting state and local guidelines banning large public gatherings. And Trump has pushed forward with a plan to announce a vaccine before the Nov. 3 election, raising concerns that the timing is intended to give him a political win right before Election Day. This month, Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified before Congress that a vaccine would not be widely available to most Americans until next summer. Trump publicly criticized Redfield and doubled down on his pledge to produce a vaccine this fall.
Foreign policy: Challenging international alliances, embracing adversaries
Trump’s approach to foreign affairs has followed his “America first” worldview, which holds that the country should prioritize its economic interests abroad instead of playing a leadership role in global affairs that don’t directly benefit the U.S. To that end, Trump has demanded that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spend more money on defense, and even weighed leaving the NATO alliance altogether. In another departure from presidential norms, Trump has sparred with traditional U.S. allies like Britain and France, while embracing authoritarian leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
On Russia, Trump has drawn criticism for accepting Putin’s denial of the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election U.S. intelligence agencies and the multi-year investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia meddled in the election to try to help Trump win the White House — and intelligence shows Russia is now actively trying to meddle in the 2020 race. On North Korea, Trump garnered some praise for holding two high-profile summits with Kim. He claimed success after the first meeting, which took place in Singapore in 2018, though the talks did not produce a final deal for North Korean denuclearization. The second summit, in Vietnam last year, also failed to result in an agreement between the two countries.
Trump’s stance on Iran and the Middle East has also sparked controversy. Last year, Trump made good on a campaign promise by withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted economic sanctions on the country in return for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program. The move angered America’s allies and ratcheted up tensions with Tehran, leading to Trump’s recent decision to deploy troops to the region to counteract Iranian influence. Tensions reached a high point at the start of this year, after Iranian Revolutionary Guard leader Qassem Soleimani was targeted and killed in a U.S. drone strike. Iran retaliated by launching a ballistic missile strike against facilities housing U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Trump administration has also brokered deals in the region. In August, the U.S. announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates would normalize relations. This month, the administration announced a similar agreement between Israel and Bahrain.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump has continued a decadeslong push by the U.S. to broker a final peace agreement. But Trump has also taken controversial steps that have complicated the U.S. effort to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Palestine, including moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in 2018, recognizing the contested Golan Heights region as part of Israel earlier this year, and forming a close alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Syria provides another example of Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy shifts. As a candidate, Trump called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan “stupid” and criticized Obama’s approach to the Syrian civil war. As president, Trump ordered strikes on Syria on two occasions, in 2017 and 2018, in response to reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. Trump also announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria in December of 2018, but then reversed course two months later and decided to leave several hundred peacekeeping troops in the country. In August, Trump announced a planned drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and he has spoken frequently on the 2020 campaign trail about his desire to stop “endless wars” overseas.
Social issues: Limit access to abortion, ban on transgender troops in the military, protect Second Amendment rights
Trump said in an NBC interview in 1999 that he was “very pro-choice” in supporting abortion rights. In 2016, Trump ran as an anti-abortion candidate, and as president has sided with conservatives who oppose abortion. The Trump administration has tried to limit abortion access for detained immigrant teenagers, and restricted federal research that uses fetal tissue. Under Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services also barred federally funded health clinics from issuing referrals for abortions.
Additionally, Trump has fulfilled a 2016 campaign promise to appoint “pro-life judges.” Trump has put hundreds of conservative judges on the bench, including two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The high court additions gave Republican appointees a 5-4 majority, and has given conservatives hope of potentially overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The president now has a chance to appoint a third justice to the nation’s highest court, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy, setting the stage for a contentious nomination process in the final weeks of the election. Democrats have argued that the Republican-controlled Senate set a precedent in 2016 by not confirming a Supreme Court nominee during an election. But Senate Republicans have argued this circumstance is different because the Senate and White House are controlled by the same party. The hearings are slated to begin in mid-October, with a final confirmation vote potentially coming in the last week before the election.
Four years ago, then-candidate Trump said in his presidential nomination acceptance speech that he would “do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens.” The line drew praise for breaking with Republican Party orthodoxy. But Trump has faced criticism in office for several actions on the issue, including his ban on transgender people serving in the military.
The ban on transgender troops is one of several areas where critics have argued Trump’s policies discriminate against underrepresented groups. Under Trump, the Department of Justice has changed its approach to civil rights, shifting the focus away from protecting traditionally marginalized people and increasing protections for religious freedom, a popular cause among conservatives.
Trump’s rhetoric on race has also come under fire. Early on in his presidency he faced a backlash for saying there were “fine people on both sides” of a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in a number of injuries and the death of a counter protester. This year, Trump has often framed the nationwide protests over racial injustice sparked by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans as a matter of law and order. Trump has criticized the protestors, characterizing them as part of violent and chaotic Democratic-run cities, and called on governors to crack down on the unrest. He had law enforcement officials clear a peaceful protest outside the White House so he could stage a photo-op in front of a nearby church.
In the run-up to the election the president has frequently claimed that Americans — especially in the suburbs — would be safer under him than Biden. Trump has also ridiculed calls on the left to “defund the police,” while arguing that police departments should root out individual officers who exhibit poor judgment rather than instituting large-scale reforms.
Energy and climate change: Withdraw from Paris climate accord, boost fossil fuel development
Less than six months after taking office, Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the international climate accord aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The withdrawal cannot be formally completed until after the 2020 election. Still, it symbolized Trump’s skepticism about climate change, which he called a hoax before taking office and has continued to question as president. It was also part of a broader effort to roll back Obama-era energy and environmental regulations.
In 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to end the Clean Power Plan, an ambitious overhaul put in place by Obama to curb carbon emissions from power plants and push states to shift toward renewable energy. Under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency also eliminated, delayed or suspended regulations for methane emissions, water pollution and pesticide use, as well as new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.
Trump has promoted oil, gas and coal production, something many of his supporters and Republicans argue is necessary to grow the economy and help the U.S. become energy independent. Last year, the Trump administration finalized plans to open new public land to oil and gas drilling. The Interior Department has also signaled support for offshore drilling. At the same time, the administration has dismissed findings by federal agencies and scientists about the dangers of climate change.
This summer, wildfires in the American West put the impacts of climate change back in the spotlight. Scientists believe climate change exacerbates extreme weather events. Trump questioned the experts on a recent visit to California, where he met with officials battling wildfires there. During a meeting with state officials Trump predicted that the climate would “start getting cooler” and suggested, “I don’t think science knows” how the climate is changing.