ed Cruz’s campaign autobiography is called “A Time for Truth.” “This guy’s a liar,” Donald Trump said at a recent G.O.P. debate, pointing at Cruz. Trump thinks a lot of people are liars, especially politicians (Jeb Bush: “Lying on campaign trail!”) and reporters (“Too bad dopey @megynkelly lies!”). Not for nothing has he been called the Human Lie Detector. And not for nothing has he been called a big, fat Pinocchio with his pants on fire by the fact-checking teams at the Times, the Washington Post, and Politifact, whose careful reports apparently have little influence on the electorate, because, as a writer for Politico admitted, “Nobody but political fanatics pays much mind to them.” “You lied,” Marco Rubio said to Trump during the truth-for-tat February debate. Cruz tried to break in, noting that Rubio had called him a liar, too. Honestly, there was so much loudmouthed soothsaying that it was hard to tell who was saying what. A line from the transcript released by CNN reads:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell the truth, I tell the truth.
Eat your heart out, Samuel Beckett.
On the one hand, not much of this is new. “Gen. Jackson is incapable of deception,” Andrew Jackson’s supporters insisted, in 1824. “Among all classes in Illinois the sobriquet of ‘honest Abe’ is habitually used by the masses,” a Republican newspaper reported of Lincoln, in 1860. The tweets at #DumpTrump—“This man is a hoax!”—don’t quite rise to the prose standard of the arrows flung at supporters of John Adams, who Jeffersonians said engaged in “every species of villainous deception, of which the human heart, in its last stage of depravity is capable.”
“When a President doesn’t tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?” a Mitt Romney ad asked last time around, during an election season in which the Obama campaign assembled a so-called Truth Team to point out Romney’s misstatements of fact. Remember the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, from 2004? This kind of thing comes and goes, and, then again, it comes. Cast back to Nixon: Among all classes, the sobriquet of “Tricky Dick” was habitually used by the masses. “Liar” isn’t what opponents generally called Ford or Carter or the first George Bush, but a Bob Dole ad, in 1996, charged that “Bill Clinton is an unusually good liar,” and much the same was said of Hillary Clinton, dubbed “a congenital liar” by William Safire. A Bernie Sanders campaign ad refers to him, pointedly, as “an honest leader”; his supporters have been less restrained. At a rally in Iowa, they chanted, “She’s a liar!”