The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump is running a post-fact presidential campaign. It’s working.

Donald Trump (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Donald Trump is, at best, a serial exaggerator and stretcher of the truth and, at worst, someone comfortable with fudging the facts. There's all sorts of quantitative measures of Trump's odd relationship with the truth but my favorite is that Trump is running away with the number of "four Pinocchio" claims as rated by the The Post's own Fact Checker. (Trump received four Pinocchios twice in the last two days alone!)

And yet and yet and yet.  A new poll out today from NBC, Telemundo and Marist College shows that more than seven in 10 Republicans believe Trump "tells it like it is" while just 25 percent say he is "insulting and offensive." (Worth noting: "Tells it like it is" and "insulting and offensive" are not polar opposites of one another; someone could think Trump doesn't tell it like it is and not believe he is insulting and offensive.)

The NBC poll findings are echoed in lots of other data that shows that, for Republicans, the controversies Trump sparks are reflective of the deep liberal media bias and obsession with political correctness that have infiltrated society rather than indicative of anything that he has done wrong. In fact, the controversies caused by Trump are regarded as proof positive that he is shaking up an establishment that badly needs shaking up.

What's lost — or ignored — in that calculation is a) what Trump is actually saying or b) whether there is a lot, some or no truth to it. I guarantee you that the 70 percent of Republicans who told NBC that Trump "tells it like it is" couldn't pinpoint what the "it" in that formulation is. And if informed of what the "it" is by a trusted source, a chunk of them would disagree with "it."

The key phrase — and stumbling block — in the sentence above is "trusted source." And for Trump, his supporters and Republicans more broadly, the mainstream media isn't one of those. The media, in Republicans' conception, has such a built-in bias for Democrats that anyone who doesn't agree with them or who openly mocks their facts or influence must, necessarily, be "telling it like it is." The enemy of my enemy is my friend — and all that.

Trump has done much to drive the sense that the real fight in the race is between him and the "establishment" — in which he lumps all politicians (other than him), the media and the donor class.  By citing fact-checks which prove him wrong, his rivals must be complicit in the broader media conspiracy aimed at pushing liberal ideals down peoples' throats.  The more times Trump gets fact-checked by these organizations, the more it convinces his supporters that he has spooked the establishment and they/us are running scared.

That basic reality explains why complaints directed at the media from Trump's GOP rivals and many Democrats — why don't you just tell people he is lying??!?!? — so misunderstand the mindset of the average Republican voter. We could write that Trump is lying every day of the week. Hell, we could run it at the top of our homepage in huge font every day. The net effect for Trump would almost certainly be positive.

Trump is on the leading edge of the post-fact presidential campaign.  His ability to disqualify the referees (the media) and, really, to re-write the rules of the game (or to have no rules at all) means that for Republicans — and especially those who support him — his "facts" are every bit as valid as the "facts" from mainstream media outlets. In fact, Trump's "facts" are of more value because they aren't being filtered through the media's liberal filter.

Down this road, as I have written before, lies significant danger for our democracy. If everyone is allowed their own set of facts, the idea of consensus loses all meaning. And without even an agreement on what common ground could look like, the idea of achieving it is preposterous.