Darryl Paulson: President ‘Pants on Fire’

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Although a Republican and a conservative, I was never able to support Donald Trump for president for three reasons. First, he has seldom been a Republican in his lifetime. Second, he is a pragmatist and populist, but not a conservative.

Finally, he has difficulty telling the truth.

So, what was so appealing about Trump that he won 30 of the 50 states and a majority of the electoral vote? His greatest appeal was being a non-politician in an era where Americans demanded political change.

Politics is the only occupation where experience is a negative. The next time you or a loved one needs major surgery, will you pick an experienced doctor or one who is doing his first operation? Only in politics do we prefer someone with no experience. We are now reaping what we have sowed.

How can you tell if Donald Trump is not lying? See if his lips are closed. Trump has changed virtually every major political position he has held. He then denies doing so, or says that changing positions is a sign of his flexibility. There is nothing wrong with a politician who changes their position, but it is not unfair to expect that person to remain true to their core values.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks has written, Trump is the “most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetime.” Trump “is oblivious to accuracy.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump lied about President Barack Obama not being born in the United States; he lied about his own position on the Iraq War; he lied about NATO; he lied about Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the assassination of President Kennedy; he lied about the unemployment and crime rate; he lied about voter fraud in elections, and he lied about his groping of women. The list is far more extensive than this.

Once assuming the presidency, President Trump lied about President Obama tapping his phones; he lied about his winning the Electoral College vote by historic margins; he lied about his inaugural crowds being larger than Obama’s, and he even lied about the provisions of his American Health Care Act.

Trump’s constant inability to tell the truth led PolitiFact to call Trump’s misstatements during the 2016 presidential campaign to be the “lie of the year.” PolitiFact concluded that 76 percent of Trump’s statements were False, Mostly False or Pants on Fire.

Lest one concludes that PolitiFact is merely another liberal hatchet job by the left-leaning media, PolitiFact labeled President Obama’s statements that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep your plan,” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” to be the “lie of the year” after passage of Obamacare.

Trump’s latest lie is that he fired FBI Director James Comey because he mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey was in the third year of a ten-year term as FBI Director when fired by the president. The long-term was designed to protect the FBI Director from political interference from the White House and Congress.

During the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, Trump praised Comey for reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails against strong protests from the Democrats. Trump said, “it took a lot of guts” for Comey to reopen the investigation and, in doing so, Comey had “brought back his reputation.”

Comey was currently investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian influence in the presidential election. Five members of the Trump campaign have been found to have contact with Russian officials during the presidential race. The list includes former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, consultant Roger Stone, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, national security adviser Michael Flynn and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Corey’s dismissal puts the Trump-Russian investigation in jeopardy. Democrats are suspicious of the timing of Comey’s firing, but their position is weakened by their repeated called for Comey’s ouster.

Perhaps the most consistent aspect of the Trump campaign and presidency is Trump’s lies. As bad as those lies may be, what is worse is that Trump is attempting to place himself above the law.

Americans would not tolerate that behavior during Watergate, when both Republicans and Democrats joined forces to find out the truth. As Howard Baker said during the Watergate hearings, “what did the president know and when did he know it?”

That question is just as relevant as it was over 40 years ago.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

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