The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s war on truth just got a lot more cult-like

President Trump at the White House on Monday. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

President Trump is raging about data again, this time angrily denouncing a new Post-ABC News poll that shows him trailing the leading Democratic candidates by sizable margins. Trump claims this poll is rigged and that if it weren’t for the “fake news,” he’d be trouncing all rivals by 20 points.

Polling this early isn’t predictive, but it does shed light on Trump’s deep unpopularity — indeed, the Post-ABC News poll has his approval sliding to 38 percent. And Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to make his dismal public standing disappear, as part of a broader war on information waged by Trumpworld, most recently to prop up his falsehoods about Hurricane Dorian.

Now we’re getting fresh examples of this war on facts — and they’re both remarkably revealing.

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The first: Republicans are now accusing the Republican National Committee of concealing internal data about Trump’s unpopularity from down-ballot Republican candidates.

This revelation comes courtesy of a new ProPublica investigation into Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. The piece mostly looks at Parscale’s use of his proximity to Trump to line his pockets.

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But ProPublica also reports new details on the Trump campaign’s takeover of the Republican Party architecture, including this revelation:

Since Trump’s election in 2016, critical “voter scores” — sophisticated polling-based analytics that the RNC provides to party committees and candidates — have conspicuously omitted an essential detail for any down-ballot race: how voters in specific states and congressional districts feel about Trump. Republican insiders believe these analytics are being withheld to try and prevent GOP candidates from publicly distancing themselves from the president or leaking unfavorable results that embarrass Trump.
“They don’t want you to know if it isn’t good,” says former RNC chairman Michael Steele, a vocal Trump critic. “There’s a lot of data they’re sitting on that they’re not sharing.” Steele adds that today, “the RNC is not an independent actor; the RNC is now a part of the Trump campaign. The question now isn’t, ‘What do you need?’ The question is, ‘Do you support Donald Trump?’”

In other words, Republicans are criticizing the RNC for withholding data about Trump that might help other Republican candidates because they might distance themselves from Trump in unflattering ways. Former president Barack Obama was criticized for taking over his party, but ProPublica notes that experts see this as “unprecedented. ”

Liberals and conservatives share basic common values, but leaders like Donald Trump use fear to exploit their differences for political gain. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump must be protected at all costs

To understand what this means, I spoke to Dan Sena, who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2018 recapture of the House. He said withholding such data would be unthinkable.

“The idea that you wouldn’t provide a blanket score about how people feel about the president is ridiculous and really hamstrings how other campaigns will operate,” Sena told me, adding that this would deny candidates a crucial weapon in tough swing districts: “Anybody who is interested in moving swing voters has to have this kind of information. ”

Sena said this info is crucial to how “modern” campaigns run targeted digital advertising in particular. “This information allows you to look for independents who like the candidate but have mixed feelings about the president,” he said. “These voters are going to be more persuadable. ”

Sena opined that this omission of data was such glaring “malpractice” that it has to be “intentional,” adding: “They clearly don’t want anyone overperforming the president. ”

To be fair, we need to know more about this arrangement to fully understand it. But one thing we can say right now is that this reading is absolutely plausible, given that it’s consistent with much of what we’ve already seen about how far this party will go to shield Trump.

For example, as Politico reports, Republicans have canceled primaries in multiple states, in part due to “months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering” by Trump campaign operatives hoping to “smooth” Trump’s path to the nomination. This shields Trump from political competition — and criticism.

Trump wields Mexican data

Here’s the second new example of this war on information: Trump is now using data provided to him by the Mexican government to paint a misleading picture of what’s happening at the border — and is even using it to displace information provided by his own government.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted out a chart that purported to show a sharp decline in migrants remaining in the United States pending processing, because of the new arrangement in which Mexico cracks down on their passage and some migrants are sent back there. Trump touted “Incredible progress. ”

But as The Post’s Nick Miroff learned, this chart was supplied to Trump by Mexican officials. Though there has been a decline in border crossings, in reality, U.S. government data shows that the picture is far less rosy, and migrant crossings are still very high.

The real key here, though, is the active supplanting of U.S. government data with other data more to Trump’s liking, for naked propagandistic purposes:

That is startling. But it’s only the latest in a long trend. I’ve already documented numerous examples in which government officials wheeled into action to make Trump’s lies and obsessions into truths, in some cases putting out “official” information explicitly shaped to do so.

What’s more, they have regularly disregarded or suppressed info generated within the government when it undermined the stated rationales of preconceived policy decisions, such as slashing refugee flows and banning people from majority-Muslim nations.

We keep discussing these things as the latest examples of Trump’s “post-truth presidency." But what also deserves mention here is the kind of deep, seething contempt all this shows for the voters, and really for democracy and governing — indeed, for the very notions of good-faith voter deliberation and official decision-making on which those things rely.

Everything must always be pressed into service — even, it appears, to the detriment of the political needs of down-ballot candidates in Trump’s own party — for the single highest good of propping up the Cult of Trump.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Is Trump afraid to face primary competition?

Ed Rogers: Republicans are canceling primaries. Is Trump afraid of something?

Jennifer Rubin: Mark Sanford might be Republicans’ last chance

Henry Olsen: A Mark Sanford campaign will go nowhere fast

Jennifer Rubin: A guide for Trump’s GOP challengers