What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump has said, repeatedly, that he opposed the war in Iraq from the start. He didn't.

He said he saw “thousands” of Muslims celebrating on New Jersey rooftops on the night of Sept. 11, 2001. Didn't happen.

He said that 58 percent of black youths are unemployed. Nope.

These are far from isolated incidents. In fact, 63 percent of the 91 Trump statements that the WaPo's Fact Checker has checked were given a Four Pinocchio rating — meaning they were/are totally false. (A typical candidate gets Four Pinocchios somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the time; 14.2 percent of Clinton's claims have been given Four Pinocchios.)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been repeating some false statements over and over again. (Jenny Starrs, Michelle Lee/The Washington Post)

In short: There is no doubt that even in the quadrennial truth-stretching that happens in presidential campaigns, Trump has set records for fabrication.

And yet, this:

By an eight-point margin, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, Trump is seen as more honest than Clinton.

What? How?

Good questions.

Start here: Perception matters hugely in politics. What people perceive to be the facts — whether or not those actually are the facts — are very powerful when it comes to what they think of the presidential candidates.

In that perception game, here's how the two candidates are seen:

Trump: Straight talker. Loud, brash and often offensive.

Clinton: Guarded and careful, maybe to the point of paranoia.

That explains how Trump, a candidate with a documented record of lying about past statements and past events, can be seen as the more honest of the two candidates. People look at Trump and conclude: How can anyone who says as many controversial things as he does on a daily basis possibly be dishonest? Trump exudes unmanaged and unpolitical, and it is, therefore, very tough — despite oodles of evidence — for most people to believe the guy simply doesn't tell the truth all that much.

Now, Clinton. She comes across — always — as cautious, wary of saying or doing things that might lose her a vote. That perception, coupled with the ongoing buzz surrounding Clinton's private email server, which has grown much louder after FBI Director James B. Comey's announcement of new emails being found last Friday, makes people more inclined to believe that the Democratic nominee is hiding something or not telling the whole truth.

The easy scapegoat here is, wait for it . . . the media. If the media would simply fact-check Donald Trump and call out his lies over and over again, then people would have a much more accurate sense of who is telling the truth and who isn't, the argument goes.

Except, not really. Scroll back up in this post. Our Fact Checker operation has fact-checked 91 statements Trump has made in this campaign. It has fact-checked 49 statements by Clinton. The problem here isn't the media. The problem is that people stick very hard to their own preconceived notions — evidence to the contrary be damned. One place where the media can be blamed is in the rise of partisan media outlets that offer confirmation bias galore to people who see the world through a particular partisan lens.

As much as many people hate to hear this, Trump's edge over Clinton on the honesty question is a classic example of perception mattering more than reality in our modern politics. There's simply no other explanation that makes any sense.