Donald Trump is a stunningly gifted politician. He doesn’t simply tell a lie, he sets up a world in which the falsehood can thrive. For instance, Trump’s most recent fib, when he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Ted Cruz sent out the nude photo of Melania Trump, was a master class in the art of the “explanation”.
TRUMP: “I did not start this. He sent out a picture, and he knew–”
TRUMP: “It was a cover story of a picture taken by Antoine Verglas–one of the great photographers of the world, by the way–my wife was a very successful model, like one of the most. It was a picture for the cover of GQ, which is a very good magazine–”
COOPER: “But he didn’t send it out, and you know that.”
TRUMP: “You don’t think he sent it out?”
COOPER: “It wasn’t even a pro-Cruz Super PAC. It was an anti-Trump Super PAC.”
TRUMP: “They were Romney people. Romney is embarrassed that he did so badly four years ago. The guy choked like a dog–”
COOPER: “Do you have proof that he sent it out?”
TRUMP: “No. Everybody knows he sent it out. He knew the people in the Super PAC. He knew–I would be willing to bet he wrote the phrase…”
This was masterful. First, Trump told Cooper that Cruz sent the photo. Then, when pressed, he defended his wife’s choice to be photographed nude, taking the spotlight off the real issue at hand. Finally, when Cooper applied more pressure, Trump backed off, and went with the implied accusation.
Lie. Distract. Imply.
Trump frequently employs the “everybody agrees/I hear from (insert group)” tactic to back up his falsehoods. Sometimes it’s “friends,” sometimes it’s simply “everybody.” This takes the pressure off of him to provide actual proof for his allegations.
When Trump appeared recently on ABC’s “This Week,” he said:
“From what I hear, [Cruz] and his campaign went out and bought the cover shoot…he was the one or his campaign bought the rights and they gave it to the Super PAC.”
There’s absolutely no evidence of this, and CNN’s Jake Tapper even called the photographer, who told him no one has bought the rights to the photo. But it doesn’t matter because Trump claims that some unspecified people told him that Cruz bought the rights, and therefore it’s true.
Trump used a very similar tactic when his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski grabbed and yanked reporter Michelle Fields away from the billionaire last month.
When asked about the incident, Trump told CNN:
“Well I heard that nothing happened. We’re surrounded by secret service, and when they left…I spoke to them. Nothing happened. This was, in my opinion, made up…the secret service said nothing happened. The secret service are amazing people. They said absolutely nothing happened…everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up.”
Lie: “Nothing happened.”
Distract: “The secret service are great people.”
Imply: “Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps it was made up.”
Whether it’s his “Muslim friends” calling him to tell him that his Muslim ban is a great idea, or the unspecified “everybody” who tells him he wins all the debates, Trump hides behind unidentifiable people who cannot be questioned or easily found.
Unfortunately, because of his smoke and mirrors, Trump is difficult to pin down. If you challenge him on something he has said, he’ll say “everybody thinks it,” or “I’ve heard people talking about it.” If you challenge him on a policy position, he’ll say his friends in the (insert community) are telling him it’s a great idea. Eventually, the interviewer or moderator is forced to move on to a new subject, or risk wasting precious time on a single topic.
These comments get widely shared on social media by Trump cultists. So, despite there being absolutely no proof that Cruz had anything to do with the Melania photo, Trump’s suggestion that he bought the rights to the image, and was the mastermind behind the release of the ad will be perpetuated.
The most frightening thing to me is that Trump’s supporters have taken on the billionaire’s persona.
Ask a Trump supporter if Cruz is responsible for the Melania ad, and they’ll say “yes.” Ask them how they know for sure, and they’ll tell you that Cruz coordinated with the Super PAC. Tell them that’s illegal, and that there’s absolutely no evidence to support their claim, and they’ll tell you you’re naive.
It’s a fact-free zone.
Trump cultists imitate the vague accusations and semantical nonsense of their leader. Arguing with them is like arguing with a small child. It’s fruitless. Nothing matters but what they believe to be true. And it all comes from the top.