Story highlights

Trump misleading about a special election in Kansas isn't a capital crime

But, it's part of a much broader pattern for a President

CNN  — 

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet touting his party’s special election victory in Kansas on Tuesday. It contained two errors.

First, national Democrats did not, in fact, “spend heavily.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the organization tasked with winning House seats, didn’t spend a dime in Kansas’ 4th district. (Liberal outside groups, in fact, bashed the DCCC for not spending money.) The House Republican campaign organization, on the other hand, spent $100,000 on ads in the final days of the race.

Second, Democrats didn’t predict victory in the special election. Why would they? This was a district that Trump carried by 27 points last November in a state that ranks among the most conservative in the country.

Trump misleading about a special election in Kansas isn’t a capital crime. But, it’s part of a much broader pattern for a President who has demonstrated only the most casual relationship with the truth over the nearly two years he has been part of the political process.

During the campaign, Trump outright declared or strongly insinuated – among many, many other misleading statements – that:

* He saw Muslims celebrating on the roofs of New Jersey buildings on the night of September 11, 2001 (no evidence exists)

* Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy (he wasn’t)

* “Inner city crime” was soaring to record levels (it wasn’t)

* The “real” unemployment rate was 42% (it wasn’t)

* He was opposed to the war in Iraq from the start (he wasn’t)

There’s more. But you get the idea.

And winning the White House didn’t change Trump’s tendencies to exaggerate or mislead.

As it became clear he would lose the popular vote by a significant margin to Hillary Clinton, Trump insisted that “millions” of illegal votes had been cast – which explained the vote discrepancy between the two candidates.

He repeated that claim in a huddle with members of Congress. He didn’t then – and still hasn’t – offered any evidence for the claim.

Then came the doozy: Trump’s tweet – and subsequent assertions – that President Barack Obama has ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the heat of the 2016 campaign.

Trump offered no evidence of the claim, and, when pressed, has insisted that he will be vindicated in the end. Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Republican chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees have said on the record that Trump’s claim was simply incorrect.

Nevertheless, Trump told the Financial Times earlier this month that his original tweet was “turning out to be true” which is, well, not true.

Of late, Trump has seized on information provided him by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, suggesting that advisers to his campaign were under surveillance as part of a broader probe into foreign agents by the intelligence community. Trump has accused former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice of a crime for asking that some of the identities picked up in this informal collection be unmasked. According to CNN reporting, however, Democratic and Republican lawmakers who have seen the information on which Trump is building these claims suggest that nothing illegal or even out of the ordinary occurred.

And, even on Wednesday, Trump’s incorrect assertions about the Kansas special election are not the only thing he got wrong. In an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump insisted that the slowness in staffing up the executive branch was due to Democratic obstructionism. But Republicans control the Senate where these nominees are confirmed and, due to a 2013 rule change, only a simple majority is required for confirmation. (Republicans currently hold 52 seats).

The cascade of misleading statements coming from the President could simply be the byproduct of a person in the White House who has spent much of his life in the entertainment and “grab eyeballs” game. Or, and this is where my money lies, it could be part of a broader strategy designed to move the goalposts and standards by which Trump is judged.

Sally Jenkins, the star Washington Post sportswriter, explained the theory behind that strategy brilliantly in a February tweet:

The idea is that Trump is – and has been – purposely stretching and blurring the bounds of fact and truth to the point where now any one thing he says that’s wrong or misleading doesn’t get nearly the attention it might if he was a more orthodox politician.

That is, not only can’t the media fact-check everything Trump says that’s incorrect, but also that Trump has convinced his followers that anything the media says is false is, by definition, true.

That’s a dangerous place for a healthy democracy to be – awash in a sea of half-truths and spin with no agreed-upon safe harbor to seek. But, it’s where we find ourselves.