Republican presidential candidates delivered a smattering of false and misleading claims at the first debate of the 2024 election – though none of the eight candidates on stage in Milwaukee delivered anything close to the bombardment of false statements that typically characterized the debate performances of former President Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner who skipped the Wednesday event.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina inaccurately described the state of the economy in early 2021 and repeated a long-ago-debunked false claim about the Biden-era Justice Department. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie misstated the sentence attached to a gun law relevant to the investigation into the president’s son Hunter Biden. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis misled about his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, omitting mention of his early pandemic restrictions.
Below is a fact check of those claims and various others from the debate, some of which left out key context. In addition, below is a brief fact check of some of Trump’s claims from a pre-taped interview he did with Tucker Carlson, which was posted online shortly before the debate aired. Trump made a variety of statements that were not true.
DeSantis and the pandemic
DeSantis criticized the federal government for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, claiming it had locked down the economy, and then said: “In Florida, we led the country out of lockdown, and we kept our state free and open.”
Facts First: DeSantis’s claim is misleading at best. Before he became a vocal opponent of pandemic restrictions, DeSantis imposed significant restrictions on individuals, businesses and other entities in Florida in March 2020 and April 2020; some of them extended months later into 2020. He did then open up the state, with a gradual phased approach, but he did not keep it open from the start.
DeSantis received criticism in March 2020 for what some critics perceived as a lax approach to the pandemic, which intensified as Florida beaches were packed during Spring Break. But that month and the month following, DeSantis issued a series of major restrictions. For example, DeSantis:
- Closed Florida’s schools, first with a short-term closure in March 2020 and then, in April 2020, with a shutdown through the end of the school year. (In June 2020, he announced a plan for schools to reopen for the next school year that began in August. By October 2020, he was publicly denouncing school closures, calling them a major mistake and saying all the information hadn’t been available that March.)
- On March 14, 2020, announced a ban on most visits to nursing homes. (He lifted the ban in September 2020.)
- On March 17, 2020, ordered bars and nightclubs to close for 30 days and restaurants to operate at half-capacity. (He later approved a phased reopening plan that took effect in May 2020, then issued an order in September 2020 allowing these establishments to operate at full capacity.)
- On March 17, 2020, ordered gatherings on public beaches to be limited to a maximum of 10 people staying at least six feet apart, then, three days later, ordered a shutdown of public beaches in two populous counties, Broward and Palm Beach. (He permitted those counties’ beaches to reopen by the last half of May.)
- On March 20, 2020, prohibited “any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency” medical procedures. (The prohibition was lifted in early May 2020.)
- On March 23, 2020, ordered that anyone flying to Florida from an area with “substantial community spread” of the virus, “to include the New York Tri-State Area (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York),” isolate or quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their stay in Florida, whichever was shorter, or face possible jail time or a fine. Later that week, he added Louisiana to the list. (He lifted the Louisiana restriction in June 2020 and the