One thing we know for sure about 2016 is that before year’s end we’ll find out whether Donald Trump will win the GOP presidential nomination and whether he’ll get himself elected.
Lacking much recent Idaho-specific information on Trump support, we have to look nationally. There, opinion seems to fall into two groups. Group A is totally bewildered that Trump is not only doing well but seems to do better every time he says something outrageous. Group B thinks he’s a straight-talker and is totally bewildered that Group A doesn’t get it.
The pundits don’t seem to get it either. They’ve been predicting his demise since the day he announced, and so far he’s confounded them at every turn.
That’s not to say the media has ignored him. His every utterance gets plenty of news coverage. If he runs the table, we can refer to him as Donald Trump, the president brought to you by CNN.
The attention has given Trump a substantial lead among GOP candidates. Oh, sure, realists here and there like to point out that his numbers are outweighed by “undecideds.” But that’s insider stuff: Most of us just look at numbers.
In many ways, Trump has the qualities we expect of our male presidential hopefuls. Good name recognition: check. Success in a chosen field: check. Adoring wife by his side: check, check, check.
Those not beguiled by Trump see a couple of problems. One is the lack of detail on how he plans to do what he says he’ll do once elected. His usual responses are “Trust me” or “Believe me” along with more words on how terrific he is at just about everything.
The other is his tendency, as one NBC reporter put it, to speak first and think later. Here’s what he said about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier from Hailey who walked away from his post in Afghanistan, spent five years as a Taliban captive, and now faces a court-martial. Trump called him “a no-good traitor who should have been executed.” No sense in waiting for the legalities, right?
Worse is his tendency to say things that just aren’t true.
Of course, all candidates play fast and loose with facts from time to time. And social media is rife with rumors about what politicians said or did or didn’t say or do. One website, Snopes.com, debunks rumors that Trump doesn’t salute the flag, was dropped from five states’ GOP primary ballots, and tweeted that his grandparents “didn’t come all the way to America from Germany just to see it taken over by immigrants.” All fabricated, Snopes reported.
But Trump plays faster and looser. Take his recollection of seeing “thousands and thousands of people” in Jersey City cheering as the World Trade Center fell. Never happened. No newspaper record, no visual record, no first-hand accounts. That got him a “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning arm of the Tampa Bay Times.
Or take Trump’s remark that Sen. John McCain “has done nothing to help the vets.” PolitiFact lists the legislative actions McCain has taken on behalf of veterans and adds that McCain’s office has five caseworkers who handled 2,000 cases last year involving the Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s not nothing.
PolitiFact analyzed other Trump comments, including that the U.S. has the “highest tax rate anywhere in the world” (nope — even our highest income tax bracket ranks 33rd among 116 nations); that Americans are the “only ones dumb enough, stupid enough” to have birthright citizenship (along with 32 other countries); and that Hillary Clinton started the “birther” movement in 2008 (no evidence of this whatsoever).
Another website, FactCheck.com, named Trump its “King of the Whopper” award-winner in 2015 because he “stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.”
Should this concern us? We might want to remember Albert Einstein’s observation that “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
In 2015 Brian Williams lost his anchor job when he told tall tales. In 2015 Donald Trump told tall tales and raced to the top of the polls. This year we’ll see how that plays out.
Lindy High, of Boise, is a retired Idaho state employee who worked for elected officials of both parties.
GOP presidential debate tonight
One of the last GOP presidential debates leading up to the Iowa Caucuses takes place at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center in South Carolina at 7 p.m. MT and will air on the Fox Business Network (channel 359 on Direct TV, 338 on Cable One).