Members of the media are wringing their hands so hard over this perplexing question that their skin is practically peeling: How is it possible for Donald Trump to tell so many blatant lies, shrug off our fact-checks, and continue rising in the polls?
Easy: Because in the minds of his supporters, Trump has converted even the simple act of dismissing pointy-headed media fact-checks into a sign of his “strength.” Trump’s big insight is not simply that the details don’t matter. It’s that getting mired in the details is itself a sign of weakness.
This dynamic is perfectly captured by a single quote from an NBC News reporter. The subject was Trump’s latest glaring falsehood: his claim that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey as the Twin Towers came down on 9/11. This has been decisively debunked by Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.
But Trump’s supporters simply don’t care in the least. Here’s what NBC reporter Katy Tur, who interviewed Trump supporters at an Ohio rally, told the network’s Steve Kornacki:
“I spoke to a lot of his supporters who are waiting to come into this rally. And I asked them what they think of Donald Trump and whether or not they’re bothered by his inaccurate statements and whether they think they matter. And not a single one of them said that they thought it mattered. They said they like him because they think he’s going to be a strong leader, and they think he’s going to bring the change to Washington that they want.
“In fact, they blame the liberal media, as they say, on perpetrating lies against Donald Trump. They repeatedly asked, why don’t you ask this about Hillary Clinton, why don’t you ask this about President Obama? So there’s definitely a party line feeling among his supporters, that it is us-versus-them. And unfortunately, the media is very much the ‘them’ in this situation.”
That’s it, in a nutshell. Trump’s supporters have been persuaded that he will be a “strong leader.” Once that decision has been made, any liberal media fact-checking of Trump’s statements, particularly criticisms that seem “politically correct,” only confirm that original impression. Trump’s willingness to “say what needs to be said,” in spite of media attacks on him, only further illustrates that he’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish whatever it is his supporters think he’s promising to accomplish when he vows to “make America great again.”
Michael Calderone has a good rundown this morning of Trump’s many falsehoods: Obama wants to bring 250,000 Syrian refugees to this country; Obama is considering an executive order to take away people’s guns; the Mexican government is sending “rapists” across the border; and so on. (As I noted the other day, Trump is engaged in “demagoguery inflation.”) Calderone points out that, when pressed to justify these claims, Trump regularly claims to have “sources” that are better than those of the media lemmings who are questioning him.
But the key point here is that it doesn’t matter whether invoking his own sources actually justifies his claims. Rather, doing that has the more important larger effect of signaling that the details are unimportant, that the larger story he’s telling is what really matters, and that the corrupt national media is trying to suppress that story. The press corps is complicit in American decline. Of course they will do all they can to prevent Trump from “making America great again.”
Sure, it still remains likely that the Trump bubble will pop in the long run. But its durability, even as it swells and swells into ever more grotesque shapes, may itself be a bigger story than we have reckoned thus far.
* OBAMA’S NUMBERS SINK: A new Post poll finds that in the wake of the Paris attacks, President Obama’s approval rating has dropped into negative territory, at 46-51, and his handling of terrorism may be the reason why:
Approval of Obama’s handling of the terrorism threat fell to a new low of 40 percent in the survey, down seven points from January. The share who “strongly disapprove” of Obama on terrorism jumped from 31 percent to 43 percent, far surpassing the previous record high of 35 percent.
One key question will be whether public views of Hillary Clinton’s capacity to handle terrorism will be tainted by this. Early signs suggest it may not.
* CRUZ-MENTUM RAGES IN IOWA!!! A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Ted Cruz has surged to within a statistical tie with Donald Trump among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers: Trump has 25 percent; Cruz has 23 percent; Ben Carson has 18 percent; and Marco Rubio has 13 percent. The poll suggests that Cruz, who is making a heavy play for evangelicals, may be scooping up Carson’s support.
By the way: 58 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers might still change their mind, so here’s your regular reminder that it’s still early and that anything can happen.
* BUT TRUMP COULD STILL WIN IOWA: The Wall Street Journal delivers the bad news to Republicans:
Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa), a local conservative political kingmaker who endorsed Mr. Cruz last week, said there is no reason to think Mr. Trump won’t win the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses. “If I had predicted Trump’s ascendance, I’d have more confidence in predicting his downfall,” he said.
And then what?
* RUBIO ROLLS OUT NEW BIOGRAPHICAL AD: NBC News reports that Marco Rubio is airing a new ad in Iowa that offers a tribute to his bartender father, and all the hard work he put in to make Rubio’s political career possible:
“My father stood behind a small portable bar in the back of a room for all those years so that I could stand behind this podium in front of this room in this nation,” Rubio says. “That journey from behind that bar to behind this podium, that’s the essence of the American Dream.”
The spot’s goal is to introduce Iowans to Rubio’s “classic American story,” as a spokesman puts it. His bartender father — has already been invoked to justify his plan to eliminate capital gains taxes– will be central to Rubio’s heavily biographical campaign.
* OBAMA’S DRONE PROGRAM WILL REMAIN SECRET: A federal appeals court has now ruled that the Obama Justice Department can keep classified around 10 documents detailing the legal rationale for targeted killings by drone strike. As Charlie Savage explains, this means we probably won’t see much more “in the way of public disclosures” about the program.
This is unfortunate. Whatever you think of the drone program, there is no excuse for the administration’s refusal to be more transparent about both its basic dimensions (which could be revealed without compromising it) and its legal basis. And that looks like it will continue.
* EXPLAINING TRUMP’S ‘REACTIONARY’ APPEAL: Michael Gerson nails a key aspect of it:
Much of Trump’s appeal is reactionary. He has tapped into a sense that an older America is being lost. In a recent poll, 62 percent of Republicans reported feeling like “a stranger in their own country.” This is a protest against rapid and disorienting social change, against an increasingly multicultural country, and against the changes of the Obama years. It does not take much political talent to turn this sense of cultural displacement into anti-immigrant resentment…
How many polls have to show that Republicans agree with Trump’s call for mass deportations before people can accept that maybe, just maybe, this helps explain his appeal?
* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, TRUMP-IS-VERY-VERY-STRONG EDITION: Here’s what Trump told a crowd last night about the need to bring back waterboarding:
“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat…And I would approve more than that. Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work….Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing. It works.”
When it comes to torture, Trump would approve “more” than waterboarding, never mind whether it actually works? As noted above, the details don’t matter in the least. Still, this one is worth following up on.