Cynicism never seems to go out of style in modern political coverage. Among the most famous catchphrases of the 2016 presidential campaign is “nothing matters” — the suggestion being that Donald Trump is exempt from the rules of respectable conduct and his campaign is immune from fact-checking. After the first debate, commentators ruefully suggested that Trump’s rotten performance could only mean one thing — his poll numbers would go up. You see, “nothing matters.” The good news is that this is turned out to be wrong: Reality has a way of catching up with politicians. That may be the most important consequence of the two debates and, we hope, the 2016 race.

My colleague Dave Weigel writes with regard to the vice-presidential debate between Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), “More effectively than any Trump surrogate up to now, Pence simply denied — and denied, and denied, and denied — that someone as essentially good as Donald Trump could hold the views that cameras had recorded him holding. . . . In the moment, interrupting Pence when he thought the Republican was dissembling about Trump or Clinton, Kaine had a hot style that narrowly lost with pundits and focus groups. In the long run, Pence made multiple arguments that would be contradicted by old quotes and old video.”

In short, the facts matter. Reality when concisely presented in a sound clip or by a transcript can weigh, at least now and then, more heavily than style. The Clinton team knew this and planned accordingly. (The Post reports, “Clinton and Kaine had a larger goal in mind than winning the debates themselves: to create a series of compelling sound bites that they planned to weaponize for the reminder of the campaign. They logged scores of hours of preparation. They recited laundry lists of Trump’s faults. Their clear objective: to record him and his running mate embracing, denying or evading controversial positions that Trump has taken in recorded speeches.”)

In the first debate Trump plainly lost points by appearing impatient, snide and uncivil. But where he blew the debate was in his futile attempt to convince voters of things that are not so. It matters that he, not Hillary Clinton, ran with the birther nonsense. It matters that he really did favor the Iraq War — until things went south.

There has been a lot of dismay on the right about “biased” fact-checking and the role of moderators in fact-checking. Conservatives are suddenly very concerned about characterizing untruths as “lies.” And yet facts remain stubborn things. There is an objective reality by which to measure some things. Pence and Trump both have praised Vladimir Putin as a strong leader. Trump did advocate a deportation force that would round up and expel millions of people — and has never clearly repudiated it.

Notice that these items are not “candidate vs. reality.” (That would entail such items as Trump’s false statements that 58 percent of black youths are unemployed or that Putin is our ally in defeating the Islamic State.) No, the most egregious of Trump’s and Pence’s falsehoods are the “Who me? I never said that!” lies.

There is also a limit, as it turns out, to making up stuff about your opponent out of whole cloth. CNN’s Jake Tapper demonstrated the limits of Trump’s baseless accusations in a face-off with the increasingly unhinged Rudy Giuliani. The topic was Trump’s baseless accusation that Hillary Clinton had been unfaithful to Bill:

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, is that normal, stable behavior for a presidential nominee to launch an unsubstantiated attack?
GIULIANI: Well, after — after she called him a racist and misogynist, a xenophobic, I don’t know, schizophrenic, and I don’t know what else she called him at the end of that debate, I think it’s fair — it’s fair game.
TAPPER: Just to make stuff up, just to say wild accusations, Hillary Clinton is cheating on Bill, no proof of it whatsoever? Everything is fair game?
GIULIANI: What — what — that was a sarcastic remark pointing out that Bill Clinton has, you know, quite a past, and Hillary Clinton has done quite a job on attacking the people who were victims of Bill Clinton.
And not only that. She poses as a feminist, and she’s taken money from countries that stone women, kill women, have women . . .
(CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: Bill Clinton is not the nominee, sir. Bill Clinton is not the nominee. And this is my last question for you.
GIULIANI: And he is . . .
(CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: Is the Trump campaign — is Donald Trump and the people around Donald Trump really the ones to be casting aspersions on the marriages of anyone else?
GIULIANI: It isn’t a marriage. It isn’t the marriage. It’s the way she goes on the attack and tries to hurt victims of sexual predations. I mean, she’s the one who says that victims should be taken seriously.
TAPPER: That wasn’t about her marriage? Him saying that she’s not loyal to Bill isn’t about her marriage?
GIULIANI: I am saying the problem with Hillary Clinton has nothing to do, as far as I’m concerned, with her marriage. It’s her protection of Bill Clinton for 20 or 25 years against allegations of rape, taking advantage of an intern, and going on the attack and trying to make those women appear to be insane in some cases.
Also, it’s her posing as a feminist and taking millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, from countries that kill women, stone women, don’t allow women to drive, don’t allow women to have rights, use women as property.
TAPPER: I just — I just — I — I mean, I just find it hard to believe that Mr. Trump would want to start leveling accusations about people’s marriages.
But that’s all the time we have, Mr. Mayor.
GIULIANI: I think the — I think the accusations are about Hillary Clinton taking money from countries that kill women.
TAPPER: The accusation was that Hillary Clinton was cheating on Bill. That’s what the accusation was.
GIULIANI: That’s . . .
TAPPER: It was an unhinged and wild accusation. I can understand why you can’t defend it, because it’s indefensible.
Mayor Giuliani, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
GIULIANI: Well, that’s your opinion. And thank you for allowing me to reply to that.

What Tapper and those “weaponized” sound bites in Clinton ads demonstrated is that some things are not merely “opinions.” In holding Trump and Pence accountable for their lies, the media — and maybe the voters — strike a blow against cynicism, moral relativism and plain-old lying. It’s about time.