Trump’s Dishonesty Baked into People’s Assessments

To paraphrase the late Dennis Green, he is who we thought he was. 

Earlier this week, Doug Mataconis noted that  President Trump has told an astonishingly large number of lies since taking office, with one fact checker counting “3,001 false or misleading claims” in his first 466 days. At the same time, one survey showed that, while 94 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independents “believe that Trump tells the truth only occasionally or even less frequently,” 76 percent of Republicans believe “he tells the truth either all or most of the time.”

Doug concluded,

Trump’s liberties with the truth, even when pointed out by the media, have not had much of an impact on his political fortunes. His die-hard supporters, quite obviously, don’t care about something as apparently trivial as the fact that the candidate they support is a proven liar, for example, and neither do the Republicans who have rallied behind him in the wake of his clinching of the nomination. Now, as we approach his first year and a half in office, all we can be sure of is that the lying will continue and his supporters will continue to not give a damn.

CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood has an even more depressing analysis: “Most voters have become numb to each new Trump scandal because they don’t believe what he says anyway.

If you’re waiting for news that President Donald Trump lied about Stormy Daniels to alter his election-year standing, stop.

Most Americans have considered Trump dishonest throughout his time in office. They judge his character indecent. But that no longer drives change in their judgments of his presidency.

The president’s legal jeopardy seized this week’s headlines. Exposure of specific falsehoods concerning the Daniels case scandalized even Trump-friendly quarters of the political world, drawing condemnations from Fox News and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Yet pollsters in both parties say the rank-and-file voters who will decide this year’s midterm elections are more apt to yawn. By now it takes blockbuster information to shift their assessments of Trump, and details about porn-star hush money, as titillating as they sound, do not qualify.

For ordinary Americans, observed Republican pollster Whit Ayres, “We’ve learned nothing new in the last 24 hours.” Surveys taken before Rudy Giuliani disclosed that Trump paid the hush money – which he and attorney Michael Cohen previously denied – back up that assessment.

In a Quinnipiac University poll last month, six in 10 Americans said they believed Trump had an affair with Daniels and knew about the hush money. But seven in 10 said it wasn’t important.

Quinnipiac has measured views of Trump’s honesty since his term began. The proportion of Americans who consider him dishonest has never fallen below 54 percent.

Of two big targets he frequently accuses of lying, ex-FBI Director James Comey and the news media, Quinnipiac found that majorities trust them more than the president. Fully 55 percent overall – 16 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents, and 92 percent of Democrats – said Trump lacks “a sense of decency.”

Those assessments have damaged the president and fellow Republicans. Fewer Americans approve his job performance than that of any recent predecessor at the same point, even with the economy humming and international affairs comparatively calm.

But views of Trump’s character have largely lost their ability to change his current standing. As unflattering information keeps accumulating, the share of Americans approving of him has ticked up from slightly below, to slightly above, 40 percent.

After 16 months, Americans have grown accustomed to Trump in the White House. The longer he serves without economic downturn or war, the more inured they become to his behavior.

“People have concluded that he’s a liar,” explained Mark Mellman, a leading Democratic pollster. “He lies every day. People know it.”

At the same time, “The world hasn’t come to an end,” Mellman added. “The world’s looking a little better. There’s some good news out there.”

[…]

More critically for Republicans, the small minority of voters most susceptible to changing their minds still haven’t arrived at a verdict about Trump’s effect on their lives. One in five of his 2016 voters viewed him unfavorably even as they elected him.

“They knew the foibles,” said David Winston, a pollster for GOP leaders in Congress. “What they were trying to do was shake up the system. They have yet to reach a conclusion on: is it working, or not?”

I take the fact that an overwhelming number of Republicans claim to believe that Trump is mostly honest as a redirect of the question rather than an honest belief. Even people who get their news exclusively from Fox News and Breitbart would have to know about his constantly-changing versions of the Stormy Daniels matter and various other issues where he’s contradicted himself. Hell, if all one watched was Sean Hannity’s show, that would be obvious. No, affirming that Trump is telling the truth is really just an affirmation that they haven’t yet given up on Trump to break the old political system and Make America Great Again.

Frankly, even as one who couldn’t imagine voting for Trump from the moment he came down the golden escalator to announce his campaign, I find the daily drip-drip-drip of scandal and mayhem exhausting. I assume the very worst in the Stormy Daniels scandal and don’t bloody care. That he hired a prostitute, paid her hush money, and engaged in various illegalities to cover it all up doesn’t phase or interest me in the slightest. And, while others seem far more interested in the story than I am, it’s not moving the needle on Trump precisely because it’s so in line with his character. To paraphrase the late Dennis Green, Trump is who we thought he was.

There’s been a meme going around social media for awhile now along the lines of “If Barack Obama did [thing Donald Trump did] [some horrible reaction would have occurred].” It’s no doubt true. But Obama was playing by a completely different set of rules—and not just because he was a black man and a Democrat. Any of a hundred incidents during the 2016 primaries alone would have been the demise of any white, male, Republican. Ditto dozens of incidents that came to light during the general election campaign. And pretty much every day of his presidency. The “Pussy Tape” alone would have killed any other candidate in history. Even Bill Clinton couldn’t have charmed his way out of that one. I’m not sure anyone else could have survived not releasing their taxes. Much less the daily corruption of leveraging the Presidency to profit his business empire. But the fact that Trump is sleazy is simply part of his brand. He’s all but scandal-proof.

In the end, I suspect David Winston is right: Trump’s supporters will continue to support him so long as they think he’s serving their interests. All politicians lie, they believe, and at least he’s not “just another politician.” They hired him to shake up the system and, so far, he’s doing that.  They’re unlikely to turn against him unless the economy collapses or he gets us into a major war through his recklessness.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mike shupp says:

    Kind of a goofball question, I suppose, but … we’ve learned a lot about political polarization and what sort of things actually shape voters’ opinions, and how political parties actually operate when they come to power. And it doesn’t really match the rather idealized picture of American society and government most of us old timers grew up with, say 50 years ago. Hell, even 10 years ago.

    And I find myself wondering, Is this going to have the slightest impact on what professors tell college students in Poly Sci 101? And what high school teachers tell their classes in those mandatory civics courses? Of course I’m reasonably confident that the answers are NO and NO. So my next question is, what do we do about it?




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  2. @mike shupp:

    That isn’t a goofball question at all, at least not from my perspective. With every succeeding day, and every succeeding revelation that would have brought down any other politician (and should have brought down Trump, but that’s another story) Trump continues to stay within basically the same poll numbers we’ve seen since the start of his Presidency. Democrats hate him, Republicans love him, and Independents disapprove of the job he’s doing by a wider margin than the population as a whole. But in the end he stays within the same numbers we’ve seen before and will likely continue to see going forward absent the economic downturn or major foreign policy crisis that James mentions.

    Some people like to think that Trump is an anomaly and that things will return to normal after he’s gone, whether that comes in 2021 or 2025. I’m not so sure. He’s remaking the body politic, and not in a good way. He’s turned the Republican Party into a xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, isolationist parody of its former self and that’s going to continue to exist long after he leaves. (Sorry #NeverTrump GOPers, but that’s reality.) The Democratic Party, meanwhile, can’t seem to figure out what it stands for, is in danger of being pulled apart by a replay of the “establishment” vs. the “progressives” fight that we saw during the 2016 primary fight between Bernie and Hillary, and in many cases seem to think that all it needs to do is talk impeachment and be anti-Trump to win in November and in 2020. Meanwhile, there are a whole lot of other people who are just tuning the nonsense out because everything seems hopeless.

    Needless to say, I’m not optimistic.




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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    He’s turned the Republican Party into a xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-trade, isolationist parody of its former self and that’s going to continue to exist long after he leaves.

    Nah, the GOP’s voters are exactly what we knew they were for a long time, trump just isn’t doing the dogwhistling that the long established GOP politicians engaged in. Now they are scared to death of their own base and go along with whatever he says. I wonder what the money men behind the GOP think of the monster they have unleashed.




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  4. @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’ve said before that Trump is the end result of what happened to the GOP beginning in the 90s with the rise of talk radio, Drudge, and Fox News. It reached new heights with Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Trump is merely the logical end of that evolution.




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  5. Scott says:

    The real damage is long term. The day to day drip of small falsehoods. The daily statement of the ends justify the means sentiment. These are corrupting our values and our society. This is creeping into all our institutions like government, business, academia, etc. I don’t think we will notice what we are losing until we have long past lost it. And it will be near impossible to get back a functioning, fair society.




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  6. teve tory says:

    It started with the southern strategy. Talk radio, Drudge, and Fox News merely amplified what the GOP voters wanted over what the establishment that was using them wanted.




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  7. @mike shupp:

    Is this going to have the slightest impact on what professors tell college students in Poly Sci 101? And what high school teachers tell their classes in those mandatory civics courses? Of course I’m reasonably confident that the answers are NO and NO. So my next question is, what do we do about it?

    I can’t speak for High School, but the Trump presidency will assuredly affect and influence what is taught in college, as his campaign and presidency have raised a host of issue. I wrote a little bit about it here: Teaching Political Science and the Trump Administration.




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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I wonder what the money men behind the GOP think of the monster they have unleashed.

    For the most part they seem happy. They’re different now, the Rockefeller style Eastern Establishment types have been deposed by the Kochs, Mercers, Adelson, and seemingly hundreds of successful car dealers, They got their tax cuts, Pruitt is destroying EPA, Mulvaney is destroying the CFPB, nobody’s doing anything about AGW, and if their daughters get knocked up they can still go to Paris for a shopping spree and a scrape. And the rubes love their front man. What’s to not love?




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  9. Scott F. says:

    it’s not moving the needle on Trump precisely because it’s so in line with his character

    When the needle is pinned at zero, moving further down isn’t possible. Trump is benefiting from having reached Peak Scandal months ago. I don’t think even indictments from Mueller of Trump specifically will change any minds.




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  10. dazedandconfused says:

    I think the question of his scandal proofness is still open. In our system we don’t have no-confidence votes so we must wait two years to see depth in “polls”, barring the extreme of impeachment. The numbers show his supporter numbers in polls as steady..but the polls have a difficult time predicting salience. Hell, everybody thought Hillary would win, and she would’ve if a significant portion of her base had bothered to vote. I see a particularly energized left base emerging, and Trump is their rallying point.

    The Democrats don’t have coherent policy? Well…do the Republicans still stand for fiscal responsibility? What was the coherence of Donald Trump as their leader??

    If recent history tells us anything it’s, at least for the moment, coherence is but a minor factor.




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  11. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The Democratic Party, meanwhile, can’t seem to figure out what it stands for, is in danger of being pulled apart by a replay of the “establishment” vs. the “progressives” fight that we saw during the 2016 primary fight between Bernie and Hillary, and in many cases seem to think that all it needs to do is talk impeachment and be anti-Trump to win in November and in 2020.

    Post Clinton, this is what the Dems stand for.

    @dazedandconfused:

    I see a particularly energized left base emerging, and Trump is their rallying point.

    Energized to do what exactly?




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  12. Raoul says:

    Stormy did not prostitute herself to Trump and to say so is slander. Also here we see again JJ looking away at “illegalities”, I wonder if he was so cavalier when a D was in WH- but IIOKIYAR.




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  13. James Pearce says:

    @Raoul:

    Stormy did not prostitute herself to Trump and to say so is slander.

    It is, at worst, hyperbole. But I sure would love to see a lawsuit that argues slander.




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  14. dazedandconfused says:

    @James Pearce:

    Vote.




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  15. de stijl says:

    It does open up a strategy for a challenger, either D or R.

    I [state your name], if elected, promise that I will bring dignity back to the Oval Office and comport myself within the standard norms of behavior for such a lofty position and office.




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  16. teve tory says:

    Washington Post is reporting that mysteriously, after a career of building using mostly debt, like every other big developer, trump org bought properties with $400 million cash, and then put millions more in cash in them.

    I bet that cash smelled like detergent.




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  17. de stijl says:

    @teve tory:

    Russian detergent, or Ukranian detergent?




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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I’ve said before that Trump is the end result of what happened to the GOP beginning in the 90s with the rise of talk radio, Drudge, and Fox News.

    If you believe that, then please stop saying things like “Trump turned the Republican Party into a xenophobic…”. You’re just perpetuating a counterproductive myth. Trump is a symptom; we can’t heal the patient if we make the mistake of thinking he’s the disease.




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  19. James Joyner says:

    @Raoul: @James Pearce: I use “prostitute” here for several reasons. First, we probably didn’t know during the campaign that he was having sex with pornographic actresses; we knew he had sex with women in exchange for money. Second, saying he had sex with prostitutes is to condemn him as a sleazy character whereas saying he had sex with a “porn star” would earn him accolades in some circles. Third, it’s my longstanding position that “pornographic actor” is a sub-category of “prostitute,” not a distinct occupation.

    As to whether Clifford/Daniels “prostituted” herself to Trump in this particular transaction, my understanding is that she had sex with him in exchange for future consideration, namely a well-paying gig on “Celebrity Apprentice.” That he did not follow through on his end of the contract is classic Trump.




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  20. george says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    All of which can be explained by one simple observation: politics is seen as a team sport.

    People cheer on their team (the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Pats, the Maple Leafs) independent of the characters of the players (or even who the players are – if a favorite player is traded to a different team they’re no longer a favorite player). Same thing is happening with politics; people cheer and vote for whoever they see as their team – and like gaining a favorite sports team, its usually done at a relatively young age and then never changes.

    Your guy gets called on a flagrant foul? Bad reffing, look at all the similar (if often imaginary) fouls the other team got away with. The other guy gets called on a dubious foul? Good reffing, it was an obvious penalty. Your team’s quarterback does horrible things in his personal life? Few care so long as he’s leading the team to wins. Sound familiar?

    At one time people’s political team was the country. Now it seems to be the political party (maybe it was always that way – was there ever a time when people didn’t vote for the same party 90% of the time?)




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  21. teve tory says:

    At one time people’s political team was the country

    I’m not aware of any historical period in which this was true. America has always had internal Others.




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  22. george says:

    @teve tory:

    Yeah, on second thought that’s probably been true since political party’s were created. And even before then there were unofficial alliances.




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