Who’s the Fakest President of All?

Over the weekend, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal complained that liberals are always stereotyping Republican presidents as dimwitted. Maybe so. But I’d argue that this is nothing compared to the relentless stereotyping of Democrats as fake and poll-driven. This started with Jimmy Carter, and just as there’s a tweet for everything, there’s also a Doonesbury for everything. Those of you of a certain age will remember Duane Delacourt:

This has since become an almost automatic assessment of Democrats running for president. Dukakis was fake, Clinton was fake, Gore was fake, Kerry was fake, and Hillary Clinton was fake. The only recent Democratic candidate who’s mostly escaped this is Barack Obama. Republicans ran their usual playbook (“empty suit,” can’t give a speech without a teleprompter, etc.) but it never stuck.

But Republicans are never stereotyped this way. Ronald Reagan was probably the first real master of political symbolism, but he was never viewed as anything but entirely authentic. George Bush bought a ranch one year before he ran for president and promptly moved into a house in Dallas when he left office, but clearing brush at Crawford somehow became evidence of his regular guyness. And Donald Trump is routinely viewed as representing genuine working-class grievance despite the fact that he’s the fakest president in history. He’s changed his mind—sometimes more than once—on practically every issue anyone cares about. He plainly cares nothing about actual policy. His tweets are almost 100 percent about projecting a fake persona. He adopts absurd positions (Mexico will pay for the wall, it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas” again) that are such obvious pandering they almost make your teeth hurt.

Trump, like most Republican presidents, speaks in a tough-guy style. Even if he’s changed his mind since yesterday’s breakfast, he talks loudly and insists that he’s “strong” on whatever issue he’s asked about. And that seems to be enough for most people, the press included. Conversely, Bill Clinton was all about Sister Souljah and feeling your pain and “triangulation.” Al Gore changed his position on abortion a decade before running for president in 2000, but that was nevertheless Exhibit 1 (out of dozens) in the case that he was just a big phony. John Kerry was “for it before he was against it” and spawned innumerable “Top Ten Flip-Flop” lists from campaign reporters. And Hillary Clinton, despite a progressive record extending back for decades, was always portrayed as too cautious and poll-driven to ever give a straight answer to anything.

Apparently Kirsten Gillibrand is about to get the same treatment because she softened her position on gun control after Sandy Hook. Will the press go along? Is she the next fake, flip-flopping Democrat to run for president? We’ll see.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend