If you keep lying to voters — repeatedly, outrageously, shamelessly — they’re going to figure it out, eventually.
But even when some do, it often doesn’t matter — at least on the national stage.
Locally, in San Luis Obispo County, we’ve seen particularly egregious lying. The June primary election will determine how well that plays in a county supervisor race.
Nationally, prevarication is endemic on the right. Chronic lying by Republican presidential candidates is Exhibit A in this USA Today fact check of the Republican presidential debate in Detroit:
Sen. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump both lied about how much money Trump inherited from his father.
▪ Trump lied about the size of the U.S. trade deficit and that the U.S. runs a deficit with “every country.”
▪ Trump lied that the wife of a 9-11 terrorist left the U.S. two days prior to the 2001 attacks and that she “knew exactly what was happening.”
▪ Trump lied that Trump University has an “A” rating from the Better Business Bureau, when the last rating Factcheck.org could find was a “D-.”
Notice who got fact checked the most? No matter. He’s betting facts don’t count, that evidence is irrelevant to voters.
Deception might work on primary-voting Republicans, but it’s a foolish strategy for the general election. Some media observers, compelled to the obvious, predict most Americans want their president to tell the truth, and they’ll cast judgment in November.
Do candidates who trade in lies believe it effects a change in voters’ opinions?
Or do they believe, as I do, that predicating campaigns on lies calcifies existing opinions into a kind of rigid, toxic cocoon, impermeable to facts or evidence?
Here at home, my guess is that it’s the latter. Certain candidates seem to be trying to encase their opponents into a tomb of scorn built upon lies, smears, hyperbole and innuendo.
These yarns are woven into false narratives in an endless loop of deceit — hawked like cheap rugs by complicit local online and radio “media.” The shabby goods are then cited as proof by unprincipled campaigns to bolster lies about their opponents.
If the accusations aren’t true, candidates muse mendaciously, then why would “media” say they are?
The circular anatomy of a campaign lie is complete:
1. Candidate or friendly parties fabricate a meme about the opponent.
2. Fabrication is pushed into public circulation via complicit online “media.”
3. Other friendly “media” — anonymous Facebook pages, fake websites, local talk radio — repeat stories based on original false “report.”
4. Public outcry ensues.
5. Candidate spreads negative meme about opponent, citing “media” as authoritative sources of outrage.
Case in point: the District 3 supervisor’s race. Challenger Dan Carpenter has predicated his campaign against incumbent Adam Hill on the issue of character.
Carpenter has little choice, given the issues at work against him: He voted against funding the popular Pismo Preserve open space project. He vocally supports the highly unpopular Laetitia Winery mega-mansion project and the Phillips 66 oil train proposal. He opposed two successful school bond measures that District 3 voters overwhelmingly supported.
Carpenter’s campaign fuels his character attack on Hill by citing “stories” in an online blog. Most of the blog’s evidence is false, but that hasn’t prevented local talk radio and anonymous social media sites from repeatedly flogging the “stories” as fact.
This blog’s raison d’être appears to be Hill’s personal and political destruction.
His campaign has complained that, in the past four years, the blog has posted 97 negative attacks on him or members of his family.
For example, the blog has accused the county Democratic Central Committee of funneling money from PG&E and Phillips 66 to Hill, cherry-picking facts to provide an out-of-context patina of truth.
In reality, those companies did donate money — along with dozens of others — to the committee, which in turn donates to a variety of candidates, including Hill.
The blog didn’t mention that these same companies donated more than three times as much to the county Republican Central Committee, nor did it accuse Republicans of funneling money to specific candidates.
Ninety-seven hit pieces from the same blog in four years, injecting poison into the community via the venom vectors of social media and talk radio. No other public figure in San Luis Obispo County comes remotely close to this level of “media” animus.
This isn’t journalism. It’s pathetic obsession spun into a narcissistic lust for attention, likes and ratings.
The rank dishonesty of this “media” treatment is at the very core of Carpenter’s craven “Character Matters” campaign.
Voters aren’t stupid. Lying to them is.
Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer whose three-decade career included positions with The Tribune, Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder and New Times. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column runs in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Matthew Hoy.