Trump's Supporters Should Have Taken Him Literally

Trump's Supporters Should Have Taken Him Literally
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page called it “the most pithy, profound and requoted explanation of the many who have tried to explain the president-elect's surprising success.” While FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver deemed it “a runaway front-runner in the ‘wrongest idea of 2016' derby,” Fox News's Brit Hume celebrated it as the “Smartest observation of the campaign.” I'm referring, of course, to a line from a September article in The Atlantic by Salena Zito: “When [Trump] makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

This became a refrain not only among Trump's prominent supporters, from Corey Lewandowski to Peter Thiel, but among many in the media cognoscenti. This was understandable, to a degree, given Trump's unorthodox candidacy, for which the press had little frame of reference. Trump had no political experience whatsoever, was wildly unpredictable, and was well-documented as a pathological liar, so inevitably there was uncertainty about how much his campaign rhetoric could be trusted. But Zito's observation has not aged well since the election. “This seriously-not-literally thing is a great analytical insight into how then-candidate Trump communicated with his supporters,” National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg wrote in December. “But it is fairly ridiculous hogwash as a prescription for how to treat an actual president, or president-elect, of the United States.”

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