Can Democrats Stop Trump’s Wave of Lies? Probably Not

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- We’ve had three years now of Donald Trump as a politician, almost half of that as president. I think we’ve collectively just about failed in one thing: how to deal with a leading politician who just doesn’t bother telling the truth.

I think most people understand that’s the case, although hard-core Trump supporters aren’t likely to say so. Anyway, if you want further evidence, the fact-checkers at the Washington Post went through one Trump rally speech and assessed just how many of his claims were “false, misleading or unsupported by evidence.” The answer? About three-quarters of them.

Of course, people are going to argue about any particular count. I’d question the very first one, in which the Post calls Trump “misleading” for calling Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester “liberal” when he’s really, they tell us, on the moderate side of Senate Democrats. To me, that’s well within the normal bounds of political rhetoric; we could debate it, but it’s not a clear factual stretch. 

But others are indisputable. Trump, for example, now has a regular riff in which he claims to have been the first Republican “since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952” to have won Wisconsin, when in fact Republicans won it six times from 1956 through 1988. Perhaps that’s not important, but it’s something he now repeats regularly. Another example that I find particularly annoying: Trump regularly claims that winning the Electoral College was more challenging for Republicans than winning the popular vote, despite the obvious fact that he and George W. Bush both did the former while failing to do the latter. 

And there’s evidence that Trump’s failure to tell the truth is getting worse, not better, over time. Trump dishonesty chronicler Daniel Dale finds that he went from an average of about three false claims a day in 2017 to five a day in 2018, with peak numbers over two recent weeks.  

As I’ve said, what’s different about Trump is his apparent utter indifference to the truth. He doesn’t lie like a politician, carefully parsing his words so that there’s a case to be made that what he said was accurate from the right point of view, or at least wasn’t clearly inaccurate. He lies like the proverbial used-car salesman, just saying whatever will make the customer happy for the short period of time he is on the lot, regardless of what he thinks three days or even three hours after the sale goes final. 

The question remains what anyone can do about it. No one really has come up with anything. Sure, there’s a case to be made that the cable news networks should dial back on taking his speeches live since they know they’ll be misinforming their viewers. And I do think that the fact-checkers, including the ones I’ve mentioned above, are overall doing good work. But it’s pretty clear that nothing the media or anyone else has done has convinced Trump to stop doing it. 

Nor, for that matter, has the damage it’s done to his presidency convinced him to change. No one he deals with trusts anything he says, making negotiation with him virtually impossible. It’s one of the reasons that, despite his claims of being a brilliant deal-maker, he’s come up basically empty in making deals so far. 

For a normal president, I’d hold out hope that a Democratic landslide in November could convince him to try a different path — and I’d urge his closest advisers to push him to see electoral defeat as a signal to that effect. Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that Trump will hold himself blameless if Republicans do get clobbered. For that matter, he’ll probably make up some statistic “showing” that his party did far better than those of other presidents at their midterm elections. And then we can add that one to the continuing false statement counts, and nothing will change. 

1. Benjamin Toff and Elizabeth Suhay at the Monkey Cage on public opinion and trade wars.

2. Jennifer Bendery on the stalled congressional sexual harrasment bill

3. Fred Kaplan on the NATO summit

4. Philip Bump lays out the very obvious case that there was no FBI plot to defeat Trump. I’ve never seen anyone even attempt to deal with what seems to me to be an open-and-shut case. This is not an argument one way or another about the Hillary Clinton investigation, although as far as I can tell, there’s not any particularly strong argument on that one, either. 

5. Tajha Chappellet-Lanier on what’s happening with opening up Congressional Research Service reports.

6. Paul Glastris has an agenda for Democrats if they win in 2020. One very interesting question for Democrats: Which should be higher on their agenda, political reform or other policy questions? 

7. And at one point Snoopy fell in love with the author of his favorite books, the Bunny Wunny series, and sent her a fan letter. He was truly over the moon when he received a return letter — even when Lucy pointed out to him that “Dear friend, Thank you for your letter. Sincerely, Helen Sweetstory” was just a form letter. Speaking of which: Jonathan Chait on how Trump gushed over the letter he received from Kim Jong Un

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