Opinion Columns & Blogs

The Numbers Crunch: Truth, lies and Donald Trump

Protesters rally Thursday in New York to condemn Donald Trump’s remarks about women and abortion.
Protesters rally Thursday in New York to condemn Donald Trump’s remarks about women and abortion. The Associated Press

Truth is the first casualty of war, the saying goes. Truth has also been beaten up and bloodied in this raucous presidential campaign.

As we head into Tuesday’s potentially pivotal primary in Wisconsin, three guesses who’s telling the most whoppers, and the first two don’t count.

Of the statements fact-checked as of Friday by PolitiFact, 42 percent of Donald Trump’s claims were found to be false and another 19 percent rate as “pants on fire” lies. So far, Trump has 23 of these complete falsehoods, double the combined total for the other four candidates still running.

One “pants on fire” claim was when he accused President Barack Obama of wanting to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees. Another is when he said that 81 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks. And another is that there are 30 million illegal immigrants in our country.

The problem isn’t just that these statements are false. It’s that they’re often on hot-button issues and deepen divisions and worsen stereotypes. It’s difficult to have a real debate when you can’t even agree on the facts.

A scant 8 percent of Trump’s statements are true or mostly true, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact’s count.

Of course, this likely won’t matter one whit to Trump’s loyal minions, who will apparently support him no matter what he says or does.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is doing somewhat better on the Truth-O-Meter. Of his assertions, 7 percent are “pants on fire” lies, another 29 percent are false and only 22 percent are true or mostly true.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been trying to run a more dignified campaign. Only 5 percent of his statements are patently untrue, while 51 percent are true or mostly true.

While many voters don’t trust her, Hillary Clinton is telling the truth more often than the Republicans. Only 1 percent of her statements are “pants on fire” lies and 12 percent false, while 52 percent are true or mostly true.

Democratic rival Bernie Sanders doesn’t have any “pants on fire” lies on his record, while 14 percent of his statements are false and 51 percent are entirely true or mostly true.

So of the five candidates still in the race, only three can say that a majority of their statements are at least mostly true.

We expect politicians, even those running for the highest office in the land, to exaggerate and shade the truth. But telling outright lies – and repeating them even after being confronted with the facts – is another matter entirely.

And if voters don’t punish candidates for lying, it will only get worse. Other than Trump in the White House, that would be one of the worst legacies of the 2016 election.

By the numbers

The Truth-O-Meter scorecard as of April 1 on fact-checked candidate statements:

  • Donald Trump: true or mostly true, 8%; half true, 14%; false or mostly false, 59%; “pants on fire” lie, 19%
  • Ted Cruz: true or mostly true, 22%; half true, 13%; false or mostly false, 58%; “pants on fire” lie, 7%
  • John Kasich: true or mostly true, 51%; half true, 16%; false or mostly false, 28%; “pants on fire” lie, 5%
  • Hillary Clinton: true or mostly true, 52%; half true, 20%; false or mostly false, 27%; “pants on fire” lie, 1%
  • Bernie Sanders: true or mostly true, 51%; half true, 19%; false or mostly false, 29%; “pants on fire” lie, 0%

Source: PolitiFact