The line between real life politics and comic parody is blurring all the time, and surely no event underscores this quite as well as Donald Trump's recent news conference in which he admitted that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Had some new evidence presented itself or, conversely, did the Republican nominee express shame and remorse for his years of campaigning to delegitimize the nation's first African-American president?
Nope. Clearly, he and his campaign staff had simply realized that claiming President Obama is a native African is no longer a message that works for Mr. Trump politically as he tries to soften his racist image. And rather than leave it at that, the candidate made yet another patently false statement — that Hillary Clinton and her supporters were responsible for spreading the rumor in the first place. The campaign even issued a statement calling such rumor-mongering "vicious and conniving."
Fact-checkers debunked this Clinton connection in about a nanosecond. (That it's been debunked before made the task relatively easy.) But don't expect Mr. Trump to express remorse about that lie either — or those from surrogates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who went on national television on Sunday to make the claim that the Republican nominee hadn't raised the birther issue in five years. Again, his claim is wrong, wrong, wrong and easily proven so.
This has become such a pattern with Mr. Trump — to make outrageous claims and statements that go far beyond the usual realm of "political spin" and hew more closely to either Communist Party propaganda ("The Tiananmen Square massacre never happened," as the Chinese government likes to say) or Onion parody ("Pneumonia virus terrified after realizing what Clintons capable of") — that traditional journalists seem unable to give it proper context. Major candidates for office simply don't lie as boldly or outrageously as the orange-hewed reality TV star does on a daily basis.
The result is that voters are treated to a false equivalency — that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump are simply out in the rough and tumble world campaigning, and what both say must be taken with a grain of salt. Granted, there is plenty of the traditional spin from the Clinton campaign, but look at the recent cough-gate debacle. Ms. Clinton been trounced on this page and elsewhere for not publicly revealing her bout with pneumonia for a couple of days. Mr. Trump received less criticism for recently suggesting that Ms. Clinton's Secret Service team lay down their firearms and "see what happens to her." And this wasn't even the first time that he's openly expressed interest in seeing the former first lady put in the line of fire.
This may be why polls show Ms. Clinton trails Mr. Trump in the area of trustworthiness, as in a recent CNN survey suggesting he has a 50-to-35 percent edge when voters are asked, "Who is most honest and trustworthy?" This is ludicrous on its face. For all the brouhaha stirred over the Benghazi attacks or Ms. Clinton's use of a private email server, she's repeatedly been found not guilty of misconduct. Even the alleged inconsistencies in her testimony are, at worst, debatable (coming down, for example, to exactly what it means for a document to be marked classified). Both the magnitude and the frequency of Mr. Trump's lies are off the charts. No one wins PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire!" rating more consistently. It's not even close.
What's particularly discouraging about the birther episode is that Mr. Trump's lie is certain to live on while the correction will go largely unnoticed. Mr. Trump is writing a new political playbook (or perhaps revising an old one) that suggests it's better to lie large, often and unapologetically then ever admit you are wrong. One poll conducted earlier this year found that nearly two-thirds of Trump supporters believe Mr. Obama was born outside the United States.
This might work on "The Apprentice" and other selectively-staged reality shows, but rarely in modern times have American national politics seemed more debased and untethered by the facts. Even if Mr. Trump loses, the country is going to be worse for this experience, particularly if it emboldens future candidates to prevaricate early, often and relentlessly rather than engage in actual debates of substance where reality is regarded as reality.