Brazen Lying Was the GOP's MO Long Before Trump

Warranted though the hand-wringing about Donald Trump's belligerent, proud and defiant rejection of reality is, his is only the most overt expression of a now thoroughgoing GOP-wide practice.

As I wrote last year, Senator Jon Kyl's bracing 2011 statement, in response to a blatant falsehood he'd told about Planned Parenthood - "it wasn't intended to be a factual statement" - ought to be deemed the slogan of the Republican Party.

As I said at the time:

...the various Ryan budgets or obvious falsehoods about [Obamacare stories] - and yes, there are valid criticisms of Obamacare - are no different than the repeated falsehoods Republicans have issued about Benghazi, or Obama's birth certificate, or Obamaphones, or the president's supposed war on rich people (about that, dear lord, make it stop!). In none of these cases are the alleged facts really "intended to be factual statements." They're just expressions of deeply held resentments and prejudices -- whether it's that Obama is a perfidious interloper, or that poor people should get what they deserve and what they deserve is the shaft, or that America's cultural fabric is being destroyed by loose women and gays.... Symbol- and emotion-laden appeals are, of course, as old as politics. What's novel here is the degree to which a major political party operates almost entirely on the basis of such appeals. We'd all be better off if such expressions of viscera -- whether or not they come in the form of alleged stories about health insurance or budgets -- were more consistently understood as such, rather than as factual statements to be taken at face value, when that's not how GOP party leaders themselves really intend them.

Trump has added a new twist to the practice, by not even trying to be evasive about his lying, but instead repeatedly doubling down on it while frontally attacking anyone who tries to hold him to account. But this is little different from Carly Fiorina's monstrous lies and angry denunciation of those who called her out for repeating falsehoods about those doctored planned parenthood videos. Similarly, Ted Cruz's ridiculous claim this weekend that the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter was most likely a trans-gendered, left wing activist (Um, no and no), the point of which was simply to communicate "I hate transgender people and leftists," while dressed up in the form of a factual assertion. Or consider almost every utterance on the campaign trail by Dr. Ben Carson.

Of course, Democrats officeholders lie and otherwise shade the truth, and their supporters gravitate toward data that conform to their beliefs. But, no, the parties are not symmetrical in their aversion to truth-telling (it's an imperfect, but nevertheless useful exercise to look at Politifact's ratings of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Compare Clinton to Trump, for instance, the parties' respective front-runners). To take one instructive example, those who insist that the two parties and their supporters have precisely equal propensities to suborn facts to their beliefs often bring up vaccines. But the history of the anti-vaccine cause demonstrates precisely the opposite. Though fears about their detrimental effects had gained pretty wide traction a decade or so ago, more recent evidence has thoroughly debunked that position. The result: approximately zero major Democratic politicians will insist, in defiance of the accepted science, that vaccines are bad. Indeed, and not at all surprising to anyone who actually pays attention to American politics, it's at a Republican presidential debate, not a Democratic one, that vaccine-skepticism would receive a hearing (and the two doctors on stage would notably fail to counter that skepticism).

Trump's nativism and proto-fascist contempt for the marginalized are particularly nauseating. But the triumph of viscera-driven politics is a party-wide problem and is hard to decouple from the larger sway of authoritarianism that is now a dominant component of the GOP. In that context, the urge to condemn the sources of the parties' hatred trumps appeals to facts and is far from the exclusive province of the Donald.

(Check out my new book, Divorce: A Love Story, co-written with my former wife, Anne Menkens. It's only $2.99 and is available here).