Hillary Clinton’s strategists have identified Donald Trump’s innumerable lies as a major weakness in his campaign for president. They’re smart. Trump does lie a lot. He often gets caught lying. Voters want their next president to be trustworthy.
What the Clintonites and their allies in the media don’t seem to understand, however, is that if your attacks on your rival’s truthfulness are themselves based on lies, your efforts are doomed to failure.
In a recent op-ed column for the New York Times, Charles M. Blow wrote that Trump “is prone to making up his own set of false facts.” (Let’s leave aside the fact that, by definition, facts are true.)
“[Trump] wildly exaggerated the number of immigrants in this country illegally and ‘inner city’ crime rates,” Blow wrote. “He said President Obama founded ISIS and that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.”
I like Blow and often agree with him — though, for the life of me, I will never understand why he was so hard on Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries and so willing to excuse Hillary Clinton’s dismal record on issues of concern to African-Americans and LGBTQ people. Now he appears to have embraced the two-party trap, using his platform to bash Trump. That’s his right, of course. What I find fascinating is Blow’s willingness to resort to untruth to make his case for Hillary. Is it really so difficult to focus on Trump and his well-documented lies?
Consider the above quote, for example. It’s true that Trump said that there were 30 million illegal immigrants in the United States. (The real number is closer to 11 million.) Follow Blow’s link, however, and you find that he said that in July 2015 – well over a year ago. Nowadays, he acknowledges the widely accepted 11 million figure, albeit with the caveat that government statistics shouldn’t be trusted because they are compiled by incompetents. “Our government has no idea. It could be three million. It could be 30 million,” he said recently.
Trump is right. It’s impossible to know for sure, although the range is probably narrower than his example. The point is, the Times and Charles Blow willfully misrepresented Trump’s position by dragging up an ancient quote, since corrected. It’s the kind of thing Trump does, and it’s sleazy.
Similarly, it’s a stretch to say that Trump “wildly exaggerated” inner-city crime rates. Politifact has backed away from their previous assessment that he had lied about an uptick in urban crime. It’s pretty clear that Trump was referring to the widely reported rise in crime in cities like Chicago. The media has seized upon his use of the modifier “record” in the phrase “record high”; while crime has indeed been higher historically, shootings have spiked in places like Chicago.
The Islamic State claim is particularly unworthy of a storied newspaper like the New York Times. When Donald Trump called President Obama “the founder of ISIS,” it’s obvious to everyone what he meant. He was being colloquial. He was speaking like a normal person. Obviously Obama wasn’t literally at the founding of ISIS. Trump meant that Obama’s policies – namely his financing and arming of the radical Islamic fundamentalists in Syria’s civil war, a faction of which became ISIS, and the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq which created a vacuum of power — effectively created the group as the monster that we know it as today. Many Middle East experts agree with this assessment, as do mainstream political observers, including some who oppose Trump. Blow’s nitpicking is unbecoming, inaccurate and so transparent as to be totally ineffectual.
Another Times columnist, Frank Bruni, recently repeated the oft-cited claim that Trump treasonously “encouraged” Russian hackers to steal U.S. government records and interfere with the election when he sarcastically suggested: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton State Department] emails that are missing.”
Give me a break. I’m not going to vote for The Donald. I think he’s dangerous. But everyone knows exactly what he meant. He wasn’t encouraging Russian hacking. He was making a point in a humorous way: that it’s ridiculous and frustrating that Secretary Clinton got away with deleting so many public records.
Why are Hillary’s people resorting to the exact same style of lying that they claim to criticize? I don’t know if it’s because the truth of some claim is of little concern to them compared to it possible effectiveness, or if it’s because they believe that the numerous legitimate criticisms of Trump — his breathtaking ignorance of history and politics, his glib encouragement of violence at his rallies, his inexperience in government, his authoritarian tendencies — are unlikely to get much traction.
What I do know is that, unlike Trump, they aren’t fooling anyone.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)