PolitiFact: No, Pa. winner Lamb did not praise Trump

President Donald Trump talks with reporters in the Oval Office March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

caption arrowCaption
President Donald Trump talks with reporters in the Oval Office March 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Did the campaign of Conor Lamb, winner of last week’s closely watched special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district,actually say nice things about the president, as President Donald Trump claimed?

Lamb said very little about the president during the expedited campaign to fill a seat vacated late last year, and he held off on criticizing the commander-in-chief when many Democrats have made the president the focus of their calls to action.

"Lamb did not want to arouse the Trump supporters in a district (Trump) won by 20 points," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll and professor of Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. "He wanted the election to be local, where he could focus on his strengths."

Asked if she agreed that the Lamb campaign had praise for Trump around points of agreement, campaign manager Abby Murphy said “No, I don’t think it was ever that specific.”

During the campaign, Lamb did express support for Trump’s plan to apply stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. He also told The Atlantic, “We need the office of the presidency to succeed if we’re gonna make any progress on these issues,” when asked what he thought of Trump.

But experts argue that even if you judge those comments as charitable by 2018 political standards, Trump’s “very nice things” claim remains misleading.

“I think the closest thing (Lamb) said to something complimentary about Trump was his endorsement of the tariffs,” said Dave Weigel, a reporter who covered the District 18 campaign for The Washington Post. “What Lamb did instead, as you probably saw, was not mention the president and make the election more about the Republicans who run Congress.”

Lamb did criticize the tax cuts bill shepherded through Congress by Republicans and signed into law by the president last year.

White House representatives declined to comment for this story.

In a report of an interview with Lamb for The Atlantic, assistant editor Elaine Godfrey wrote that when asked about Trump directly, Lamb offered this response: “We need the office of the presidency to succeed if we’re gonna make any progress on these issues. The number-one thing people talk about is wanting to get someone down there who’s actually gonna attack the problem, not attack the other side.”

Godfrey wrote that Lamb “never mentioned the president by name” in their conversation.

While Lamb remained largely silent on the subject of the White House, Trump didn’t always return the favor. He once referred to Lamb as “Lamb the sham” and said “I hear he’s nice looking. I think I’m better looking than him. I do. I do. I do.”

On CNN’s New Day program, when asked about the “Lamb the sham” comment, Lamb quickly pivoted back to the campaign.

“Apart from that, there was a lot of foolishness in this election and a lot of cartoonish campaigning, and by the time of the president’s visit last weekend, people were kind of tired of that approach,” he said.

Asked about Trump saying he was “better looking,” Lamb laughed.

“I really have no opinion on that one.”

Our ruling

At times Lamb showed himself to be in agreement with Trump on certain policy points. But Trump equating this with high praise goes too far in interpreting and exaggerating what Lamb actually said. We found no evidence of Lamb lavishing praise on the president and instead found evidence of Lamb pivoting away from the subject on the campaign trail.

We rate this claim False.

Says Conor Lamb “ran on a campaign that said very nice things about me.”

— President Donald Trump on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 in Private fundraiser