The question has persisted since Donald Trump began running for President with a series of lies about everything from his background to claims that groups of Muslims cheered as they watched the World Trade Center collapse from across the Hudson River in Jersey City:
Why don’t all those lies (10,796 as of last spring, since he took office, according to Politifacts) hurt Trump at all among his base supporters?
For sure they don’t, even in California, where he is least popular of any state in the Union, with an approval rating in the low 30 percent range. That’s about the same percentage as the votes he drew in 2016, meaning the same folks who believed and believed in Trump then, still do.
Psychological research conducted primarily at Stanford University between the late 1940s and early ‘60s provides some answers. This material became known as the theory of cognitive dissonance.
One portion of the theory goes something like this: People who believe in someone will believe almost anything he or she says, also refusing to believe almost anything negative about them.
Or, as Trump famously put it during a 2016 campaign stop, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”
And so, when a widely published advice columnist claims he raped her in a department store fitting room about 30 years ago, he loses no support by saying it never happened, he never met the woman and besides, “She’s not my type.” There is no impact when, the next day, a photo turns up showing the two conversing animatedly at about the time of the alleged incident. Trump didn’t even have to cry “fake news.” It’s as if he were asking supporters the old question: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” His backers choose not to believe or care about what they see.
That’s almost the ultimate in cognitive dissonance.
It was the same when Trump claimed while a 2016 candidate to have become pals with Russian President Vladimir Putin while waiting together in a “60 Minutes” green room before each went on the show and no one batted an eye. Never mind that Trump was interviewed for that program in his penthouse office in New York while Putin appeared from his Kremlin office 8,000 miles away. Neither saw the innards of any green room. This was a complete fabrication.
When asked about this and other lies by former TV host Bill O’Reilly, Trump responded that “I didn’t have time to check the facts.” So, by his admission, he just made it up, as he did when claiming that 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks. The facts? The vast majority of white murder victims are killed by other whites. But lies rarely harm Trump’s poll standing or reduce his base of support.
This kind of thing has not worked for most other presidents and presidential candidates. But it did work for California’s muscleman former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to take no campaign donations from special interests, but began collecting big money, the next day from car dealers and oil companies.
No matter…some polls indicate if Schwarzenegger could run today, he would easily be elected governor again.
It’s all about celebrity and cognitive dissonance. Because Trump, like Schwarzenegger, was well known long before he entered politics, both celebrities longer than millions of voters have lived, many believe they already know him and pay little heed to what he says or what others say about him, true or not.
When Trump is loudly inconsistent, as when he tried to demolish Obamacare and then claimed to have willingly kept it going, it’s no liability.
It’s as if a Kardashian ran for office rather than running a reality TV show. The celebrity factor outweighs anything else.
That’s why Democrats must beware as the 2020 election prelude becomes serious. For no matter what polls may say, celebrity Trump’s lies and misstatements will never be held against him by his diehard supporters, which will always give him a chance to win another term, even if he again loses the popular vote.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net