Sometimes lies don’t matter. Sometimes they do.
It really doesn’t matter if you think you’re a great dancer when you’re not, or that a comb-over is a good look. However, sometimes lies do matter. The Republicans are well on their way to selecting an unelectable candidate, be it Trump or Cruz, and it’s a direct result of media which has lied to them.
Not too long ago, I was engaged in a discussion with a right wing acquaintance, who cited a “fact” that was not only demonstrably false, but violated the laws of mathematics. When I called him on it, he smugly replied, “Well, you have your facts and I have mine.” And sadly, that’s true. The right wing has their own set of “facts,” and many of those simply aren’t true.
Once upon a time, in the first three quarters of the twentieth century, there was a single shared set of facts and a variety of opinions. However, with the proliferation of channels and resulting fragmentation, media emerged to provide different groups with their own set of facts. Over time these alternate media, Fox News, right wing radio and the various internet sites like Drudge and Breitbart, went further and further. What started out as selective reporting and emphasis evolved into fabrication and downright untruthfulness, e.g., the Birther controversy or climate change.
Which brings us to the current election. The Democrats are vulnerable this year. Hillary is a flawed candidate. The left is divided on generational affiliation. The economic recovery is tepid. If the Republicans were able to put forward a candidate with appeal to moderates and independents, they might well win. They could, but they won’t because they live in an alternate reality.
Specifically, there are three things that conservatives believe that simply aren’t true.
Lie 1: W was a successful president, Obama is a failed one. It took Donald Trump, not known for factual accuracy, to point out that W “didn’t keep us safe” and destabilized the Middle East, although Trump stopped short of calling out W for cratering the economy and racking up an enormous deficit. But even Trump has stuck with the lie that Obama is a failed president who’s ruining America. Indeed, that’s the general view among the GOP—only 14% of Republicans think he’s doing a good job. Problem is, the rest of the country knows better, and that’s why Obama’s overall approval rating is roughly where Reagan’s was at this point in his presidency and a whopping 16 points better than W.
Lie 2: The reason Republicans lost the last two elections were because Romney and McCain weren’t conservative enough. Let’s see, the reason the GOP lost to Kennedy was because Nixon wasn’t conservative enough, so in 1964 they ran Goldwater, who lost by the largest margin in the history of the popular vote. In 1972, using the same logic, the Democrats put forward George McGovern, who lost by an even bigger margin than Goldwater. Now this isn’t to say extremist candidates can’t win. Reagan won. But for extremist candidates to win, they have to at least sound sane. The GOP has no shortage of ultra-right wing candidates and some of them even sound reasonable, at least superficially—Christie, Rubio, Kasich—but the Republican base wants no part of reasonable, even if it’s just superficial.
Lie 3: A more conservative candidate will win because of turnout. That is, somewhere out there, there’s a vast sea of uneducated white men who don’t vote because they simply can’t find a candidate bigoted enough for them. Well, maybe. It’s true that about 75% of the electorate is made up of white people and 40% of them don’t vote. If all of those turned up and voted for a single candidate, it would change the result. However, the problem is that assumes that all those missing white people (or a huge majority of them) are ultra-conservative voters. The truth is the majority of the U.S. self-identifies as moderate or liberal, and the number who self-identify as conservative has been steadily falling. And since the greatest group of non-voters tend to be the young and the Hispanic, both of which strongly lean toward the liberal side of the spectrum, it’s not at all likely that increasing turnout would help the conservative cause. Cruz does very poorly with young people, as Trump does with women, both of which would presumably be in those increased turnout numbers.
In summary, the Republicans are going to lose this election because they’ve come to believe their own lies. The white, religious, male, conservative America they’re banking on no longer exists, although don’t count on their media to tell them that.