Throughout much of 2016, Donald Trump had an important challenge to overcome. Among his troubles was the fact that Barack Obama was a popular president, leading in a time of low unemployment and low crime, making it difficult for a Republican to make the case for a radical change in the nation's direction.
And so, Trump created an alternate universe that better suited his purposes. How did the GOP candidate respond to low unemployment? By insisting that jobless rate was politically-motivated fiction, cooked up by corrupt officials hiding the truth. At different points in the campaign, Trump publicly argued that the unemployment rate was 20% – or possibly 42% – even as reality pointed to a rate below 5%.
Trump did the same thing when talking about crime rates. The Republican insisted repeatedly that the U.S. murder rate was at a 45-year high, despite the evidence that showed it near a 50-year low. (The Trump campaign ultimately said the FBI might be lying in its crime statistics.)
Watching Trump replace our reality with an alternate universe was, of course, disorienting, which was very likely the point. What we didn't realize at the time, however, is that would become the first page in his playbook on how to win elections.
Virginians will go to the polls today to elect a new governor, and the president desperately hopes former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie prevails. Republicans, however, face a familiar dynamic: the Democratic incumbent enjoys fairly broad support, and Virginia has thrived in recent years.
Naturally, Trump's solution is to once again create an alternate reality. "The state of Virginia economy, under Democrat rule, has been terrible," the president said yesterday. He added this morning that the commonwealth is plagued by "high crime and poor economic performance."
Whether the president understands this or not, he's completely wrong.
Unemployment in Virginia has consistently been lower than in the United States on the whole. As unemployment rose in 2001 and 2007, unemployment simultaneously rose in Virginia. But unemployment in the commonwealth has consistently been at least 10 percent lower than the national unemployment rate.To Trump’s point, that margin has been lower since Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) took office in 2014 (though it began dropping under Republican Bob McDonnell). This isn’t what Trump wrote, though.
On unemployment, Virginia in recent years has outpaced the national average. The state's economic growth rates have been quite healthy. It also has one of the nation's lowest crime rates.
In other words, the truth is pretty much the opposite of what Donald Trump said it is -- just like last year. The facts are politically inconvenient, so the president has found it necessary to ignore them and create a fictional dystopia.
This tactic worked relatively well for Trump a year ago. We'll find out tonight whether the strategy is still effective.