The numbers in the new CNN poll are striking: six in 10 people don’t believe President Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”
For any normal president, those numbers – especially this early in his time in office – would be cause for total and complete panic.
For Trump, they’re just more of the same.
Go back to the 2016 exit polls. Just 33% of voters said Trump was honest and trustworthy while 64% said he was not. And he won!
How? Because Hillary Clinton’s numbers on the “honest and trustworthy” question – 36% said she was/61% said she was not – weren’t much better. In fact, one in five voters who said that Trump was neither honest nor trustworthy voted for him! Of the three in 10 voters who said neither candidate was honest, Trump beat Clinton 43% to 40%.
The lesson to be learned from the 2016 election is that enough voters simply didn’t care that Trump didn’t tell the truth a lot of the time. And, he really didn’t. As of November 3, 2016, 64% of all the Trump statements the Washington Post’s Fact Checker had, um, checked were found to be totally and completely false. (The average politician makes completely false statements 10-20% of the time, according to the Fact Checker.)
Some – Trump’s base – believed that he was telling the truth in spite of all of those numbers. That if the media said he was lying, he must be telling the truth.
But there were also a large number of Trump voters who knew he was lying and misleading at a record rate and just didn’t care. Or, to put a finer point on it: They didn’t care about Trump’s lies as much as they cared about throwing out the status quo and electing someone they thought would be a change agent.
Again, the exit polling is telling. Of the four in 10 voters who said the most important thing to them was a candidate who could bring change to Washington, Trump took 82% to 14% for Clinton. That’s the election, in one question.
In other words: It was always a relatively small faction of Trump voters who chose him because they believed he was a truth-teller. Most Trump voters made peace with the fact he often exaggerated and straight-out lied because, well, all politicians lie. And at least Trump was brazen about it.
Since being elected president, Trump has not slowed the pace of his misstatements and lies. According, again, to the Post’s Fact Checker, Trump made 836 false or misleading claims in his first six months as President, a pace of almost five a day(!). These misstatements and lies range from the big – that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign – to the much more mundane, like making up phone calls with people.
And yet, Trump’s numbers on being honest and trustworthy are basically the same as they have always been: Bad but with no obvious downward plunge.
What that suggests to me is that drawing conclusions about Trump’s political future based on how few people trust him may miss the mark.
A better potential measure? How people view his management of the country. After all, the basic conceit of Trump’s campaign was that the people running the government were dumb and bad. And that he was smart and good. Elect him President and he would, to borrow a phrase, make America great again.
In November 2016, a week after the election, 50% of people said they believed Trump could “manage the government effectively.” In the new CNN poll. just 36% say he is an effective manager.
That number is where Trump’s real political peril, ahem, lies.