By this point, four years into the Donald Trump era of U.S. politics, it takes a willful disinterest in accuracy to not understand that Trump says untrue things with regularity. And not just oh-he-got-a-number-wrong untrue things but untrue things that people have repeatedly noted are untrue — sometimes directly to Trump — and that he goes on saying anyway.
The Washington Post’s fact-checking team has been tallying Trump’s falsehoods since he took office, and it announced Monday that he had made more than 12,000 false or misleading claims as president, many of them rehashes of past untrue claims. The pace of the president’s dishonesty has accelerated. Over his first six full months in office, he averaged 157 untrue claims each month. From February of this year through July, the last full month for which we have data, he has averaged 586.
This raises an interesting question. By the time Election Day rolls around in 2020, how many untrue things will Trump will have said as president and as a candidate seeking reelection?
The answer to that question is necessarily speculative but probably ranges from about 23,000 to 29,000 untrue claims. It depends almost entirely on two things: If the rate at which he says untrue things changes; and, more important, how many campaign rallies he holds.
Notice on the chart above that big jump in October 2018. That represents a surge in untrue claims made by Trump as the 2018 midterms approached. If we break down the data above to show the medium through which he offered his false claims, you can see how much of that jump was a function of an increase in the number of untrue things he said at campaign rallies.
We can look at this more directly. Here are the cumulative number of false statements made by the president by medium. The surge in the number of untrue statements made at campaign rallies is much more obvious here.
Almost 1 in 10 untrue things Trump has said as president were said during campaign rallies in October or November 2018 as he barnstormed the country on behalf of Republican candidates.
To determine how many claims Trump is likely to make by Election Day, we can look at the number of untrue things he has said on average over the course of his presidency. The rate at which he says untrue things on Twitter and the rate at which he says untrue things in places besides campaign rallies have increased as his presidency has wound on. But the daily average of untrue things he says at rallies has moved around a lot.
There’s a simple reason for that: He doesn’t have rallies every day. If we look at the average per rally, it’s a much smoother trend. At rallies in 2019, he has averaged a lot more untrue claims per rally than he did at rallies in 2018, which was itself higher than in 2017. Over the past three months, he has averaged a bit over 40 untrue claims per rally.
So let’s project two scenarios leading up to the 2020 election. In both, we’ll hold the rate of untrue claims made anywhere except campaign rallies steady, relative to what they’ve been so far this year. In one scenario, we assume that Trump holds a more modest schedule of rallies (93 from August through the election) and says 30 untrue things at each, on average. In the other scenario, we estimate more rallies (173) and more falsehoods (50 on average).
The lower-end scenario gives us 22,800 misleading claims. The higher-end one gives us 28,600.
You may think that the estimates for the number of rallies is high, which is fair. Remember, though, that Trump held 36 rallies from August to November 2018. Over the general election in 2016, he held 137 — just from June on. Will being president cut into his rally schedule? It could, although being president doesn’t seem to have eaten into his going-to-Trump-branded-golf-courses very much.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that he hits the lower-tier number, about 23,000 untrue things over the course of his presidency. That will mean that he’ll have made an average of more than 16 untrue claims per day as president before asking America to give him another four years in office.
Now let’s assume, again for the sake of argument, that Trump says zero additional untrue things before Election Day of next year. He’ll still have averaged 8.7 untrue claims per day over the span of his first term, meaning that he said something false about once every three hours on average — even though, under this imaginary scenario, he hadn’t said anything untrue in more than a year.
We suspect the scenario in which Trump says nothing else untrue until Election Day is the least likely of our proposed scenarios.