Donald Trump’s lies are massive and unceasing. Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t require some sort of soft walkback from his campaign, whether on his abortion positions or his self-funded campaign or his opponents.
But to many of his followers, these lies are half the attraction. When Trump himself admits he lied or openly flips positions, his supporters rage that he never lied, that he never switched positions, that he’s as constant as the Northern Star. They term him a “non-politician,” as though shifting positions constantly is a reflection of honesty rather than dishonesty; they excuse his lies by portraying him as a victim of an adversarial media, as though Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) faces friends each time the red light goes on. Then they call Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” while maintaining that he planted a super PAC anti-Melania ad (a lie), stole the Iowa caucuses from Ben Carson (a lie), and cheated on his wife with a bevy of women (a lie).
And his supporters follow. As Jonah Goldberg wrote this weekend at National Review:
Like all demagogues, he’s using his lies as a loyalty test for his followers. He’s exploiting his popularity and abusing the devotion of his fans to force them into going along with his fictions, until they are in so deep psychologically, they have no choice but to carry on. It’s an ancient psychological tactic of authoritarians, Mafia dons, and the like: Force your followers into sharing the blame for your misdeeds so that they can’t break ranks.
What lies behind the peculiar loyalty of Trump’s base to their man, no matter how many times he lies to them and the rest of America? I’ve stated openly that I support Ted Cruz in this primary, but I’ve ripped him before. I’ve said that his preacher mannerisms are offputting, that he appears insincere publicly, that he originally got it wrong on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I’ve even said (before Trump’s favorables plummeted) that Trump might have been more electable than Cruz.
So why do Trump’s supporters tolerate his lies? Why, after he spent weeks denying that his campaign manager even touched a female reporter, then suggesting that she was some sort of ISIS pen-bomb assassin, do Trump’s supporters now ignore the fact that he says that his campaign manager probably should have apologized (“You’re right, but from what I understand it wouldn’t have mattered”)? Why, do they defend him as a staunch truthteller after he admits he should never have retweeted a nasty picture of Heidi Cruz (“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have sent it”)? Why does he lie every five minutes, yet receive support from his base every time?
Trump’s supporters seem to break down into three camps on this score.
The True Believers. The true believers think Trump will indeed fight for them. They see him as a victim of circumstance: the media are always lying about their man, he’s always being taken out of context. Trump feeds them red meat in this regard. He’s constantly complaining about being misquoted, even if he isn’t – he told Eric Bolling the other day that MSNBC cut out the relevant portion of his interview about abortion, an outright lie – and he’s always explaining that when he rips members of the media, it’s simple justice. He spends weeks attacking Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, then says, “There’s no reason [to do that]. I don’t care about Megyn. I’m sure she’s perfectly nice, but I don’t really know Megyn at all. I just think I’ve been treated very unfairly.”
With these supporters, Trump has crafted an alternative reality: what he says goes, even if it doesn’t mildly reflect reality. The man can say anything, and any attempt to cross Trump represents an act of insanity. For these Trump supporters – people who desperately hope that Trump isn’t lying when he promises to bring back jobs and restore American greatness – all that comes from Trump’s mouth must be treated as truth. These Trump voters look most like Obama 2008 “hope and change” fanatics.
The Alt-Right Machiavellians. Then there are those who know Trump is lying but just don’t care – his lies must be defended, because Trump lying and getting away with it reflects turnabout as fair play. Milo Yiannopoulos, perhaps Trump’s loudest single supporter and alt-right defender, suggests that Trump draws from the alt-right white nationalist base because he’s simply turning the game on its head: the left has relied on racial pandering and creation of linguistic taboo to reach success, so Trump can reverse that polarity by relying on similar racial pandering and violation of linguistic taboo. The left lies, and so Trump can lie:
It’s true that Donald Trump would not be possible without the oppressive hectoring of the progressive Left, but the entire media is to blame for the environment in which this new movement has emerged.
Trump lies on behalf of the dispossessed white victims of political correctness, according to the alt-right. Thus, his lies are merely means to a decent end. Never mind that the white nationalist movement is indecent — Trump’s on their side, and his lies, calibrated to target the political establishment, just demonstrate that, many of them believe. They have no rules; Trump has no rules. And by joining with Trump in telling lies, they become more powerful than the truth. They become part of a “politically incorrect” movement to fight back against the left’s lies by promulgating Trump’s.
The Burn-It-All-Down Crowd. Then there’s the most populous group of Trump supporters – the folks who are just fighting mad and won’t take it anymore. They don’t care if Trump lies; they figure that everyone lies. They believe precisely one Trump promise: to burn it all down. Every Trump lie, in this view, actually burnishes his image, because his open willingness to lie represents a ruthless unwillingness to conform with the expectations of political reality. He may be a fabulist, but he’ll lie to those politicians who have been lying to us, too. As I wrote back in August 2015:
In fact, that element of bulls*** is one of his most attractive personal features. Trump’s supporters find the bafflement of their supposed intellectual superiors amusing. Trump is running a GFY campaign because he is incapable of running any other campaign. And his supporters are in a GFY mood.
We’re now nine months into the Trump movement, and it’s time for Trump supporters to realize that Trump may be the stripper you date, but he isn’t the girl you bring home to mother. The world isn’t lying; Trump is. Trump isn’t lying to everyone except Trump supporters; he’s lying to Trump supporters, too. He’ll be loyal to his allies so long as that’s convenient. Then he’ll throw them over for something better.
Liars lie. It’s what they do. And making excuses for those lies puts his supporters in Trump’s moral boat – a boat rocking wildly side-to-side, taking on water fast.