There’s a simple answer to the question of why the seemingly constant lying of presidential candidate Donald Trump has not cost him much, if any, of his standing among Republicans likely to vote in this spring’s primary elections.
There’s also a complex answer.
The simple answer is that because Trump – billionaire businessman and television personality that he’s been for many years – is a celebrity, he can say almost anything and no one will pay much attention.
The complex answer is tied to the simple one. Because he’s well-known, a celebrity longer than many voters have lived, those voters believe they already know him, and heed what he says less than they do the sometimes inaccurate, absurd utterances of other candidates.
(The Florida-based fact-checking organization PolitiFact finds that 75 percent of Trump’s campaign statements are at least partially false, giving Democrat Hillary Clinton a 28 percent rating.)
So when Trump says, as he did during one Republican debate, that he became pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin while waiting together in a “60 Minutes” green room before each went on the same show, no one bats an eye. Trump’s poll standing was totally unchanged when the truth emerged: He did that program in his penthouse office in New York while Putin appeared in his Kremlin office, almost 5,000 miles away. Neither saw the innards of any green room for that program. This was a complete fabrication, and there is no evidence Trump has ever met Putin.
The same happened two months later, when Trump shrugged off the fact that he invented a story about thousands of Arab Americans cheering from Jersey City as the World Trade Center across the Hudson River in New York collapsed on 9-11. Never happened. Said Trump to TV host Bill O’Reilly, “I didn’t have time to check the facts.”
No time to check the facts? Just make it up. Like he did with the bogus statistic he cited while claiming 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks. Wrong. The vast majority of white victims are killed by other whites. No harm to Trump’s poll standing.
That kind of thing didn’t work for past presidential candidates like Joe Biden and Gary Hart. Biden’s first run, in 1988, died with the revelation that he “borrowed” a few lines from someone else’s speech for one of his own. Hart lost out after getting caught lying about an extramarital affair.
Meanwhile, when muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger lied about his own affairs and then failed to deliver on a promise to fund an independent investigation of his womanizing, he lost no votes. He also lied when he declared his candidacy for governor in 2003, promising to take no special interest campaign money, a falsehood exposed the next day as he began taking big money from car dealers and oil companies. No matter…some polls indicate if Schwarzenegger were eligible to run again, he would handily win the California governor’s office.
Schwarzenegger established a pattern while running here. Whatever he said, whatever commitment he reneged on, it simply did not matter.
That’s exactly how it’s working today with Trump now above 40 percent in some national polls of likely Republican voters. Lying isn’t a liability if you’re a celebrity. Consistency counts for nothing, too.
For sure, Trump has been consistently inconsistent, changing positions on everything from abortion to immigration. Like Schwarzenegger, when he takes a new position, he does it loudly.
This should alarm Democrats. Normally, campaigns conduct copious opposition research, trying to locate every problem or lie in a rival’s background.
No need for that with Trump. His bankruptcies are known; voters laugh them off. Many of his lies are widely publicized. They haven’t mattered. Anyone bringing them up now, say a debate moderator, will be lambasted by candidates and voters for bringing up old, “irrelevant” stuff.
In an ordinary campaign, lies and inconsistencies are always relevant.
With Trump, they might still matter to some voters. But for many, possibly most, they mean virtually nothing, just The Donald running off at the mouth again. The question this raises: If nothing a candidate says can be held against him or her; if he or she isn’t accountable for past sins and dishonesty, how is anyone going to beat that candidate? For sure no one ever beat Schwarzenegger.