“I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter,” President Trump claimed in a recent interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. However, in January, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a majority of Americans disapprove of President Trump’s Twitter use- 47% of Republicans, 66% of independents, and 89% of Democrats. Despite these findings, the President’s Twitter presence and use has only increased since his inauguration; as of February, the @realDonaldTrump account has received 50,000 “retweets” and 150,000 “favorites.”
This begs the question that if a majority of people disapproves of Trump’s Twitter use, then why are they engaging with his Twitter account more and more? I submit that, while Twitter may have been Trump’s secret weapon in the primary and general elections, it may become the Achilles’ heel of his presidency.
Rewind back to August of 2015 when there were 17 very qualified candidates in the GOP primary, and the idea of a Trump presidency was almost laughable to many. In a field of 17 candidates, Donald Trump ultimately separated himself from the pack. How? Media coverage.
One study found that Trump received 327 minutes of the 1,000 total minutes of national broadcast airtime devoted to the primaries in 2015. By February 2016, Trump received almost $2 billion in free media coverage, which is astronomically more free coverage than any other GOP primary candidate received. In March 2016 alone he received $487 million in free media.
Throughout the GOP primary, Donald Trump attracted this free media attention through his statements at rallies, interviews, and on Twitter. And although there is currently no breakdown measuring how much of the free media was dedicated to coverage of Trump’s tweets, anyone who remotely followed the primary could attest to the fact that networks fixated on his every tweet.
Not only did his Twitter help him earn more media attention, but it also differentiated him from the other contenders. While some may say that the tweets attracted purely negative coverage, they also helped frame Trump as someone who was not an average politician. He was a “straight-talker,” and thus someone who could bring change to Washington.
Trump’s free media and people’s perception that he was not a typical politician ultimately won him the presidency. Exit polls show that 69% of people who voted were dissatisfied with the federal government, and a majority of the electorate cared most about the fact that a candidate could bring change. So Trump may have been correct when he told Carlson that he wouldn’t have been in the White House without his Twitter. However, just because tweeting may have been a novel and astute campaign strategy does not mean that it will serve him well as president.
Yes, more people than ever are engaging with the president over Twitter. However, I presume that the reason for their engagement may be somewhat similar to why people tune into Keeping Up with the Kardashians: it’s not a quality TV show, but people cannot bear to pull themselves away from drama and conflict, no matter how ridiculous it may be. Although it seems strange to compare tweets from our president to a reality television show (even though Trump was once a reality TV star himself), Trump’s tweets have become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon—26.6 million followers is nothing to scoff at. President Trump’s tweets are still discussed on news, entertainment, and, recently, Hollywood award shows.
While some may argue that Twitter continues to get Trump press, action, not free media coverage, is the object of a presidency. Full disclosure—I volunteered for the Trump campaign and voted for him for president not because of his personality but because of his vision of America; nevertheless, his tweets tend to detract from his credibility as president and thus the integrity of his policies.
For example, President Trump’s address to Congress was widely praised by both Republicans and Democrats; even Van Jones, one of the President’s harshest critics, said that “Donald Trump became the President of the United States… Period.” Within 72 hours of the speech, Trump sent out a tweet claiming that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the months leading up to the general election. Regardless of whether or not the claim is verifiable, many questioned why he would announce such a serious accusation over Twitter without having evidence. But that was not an isolated incident. While in office, Trump has attacked people ranging from various celebrities to the media, whose members he called “the enemy of the American people.”
I admit I did get some joy out of reading his criticism of Meryl Streep after she chose to use her speech at the Golden Globes to attack Trump instead of to simply accept her award and thank people who have contributed to her success (though that’s another story). But personally attacking a celebrity does not strike a presidential tone, distracts people from the policies he is implementing, and perhaps only adds fuel to the fire for those who already dislike him.
Some may argue that Trump may lose supporters if he stops tweeting because they are attracted to his inflammatory tone. I am not suggesting that he stop tweeting altogether, but he should try to limit himself to statements that directly address his policy agenda and are backed up by facts. Attacking celebrities and sharing incorrect or unproven information only distracts from his agenda and feeds into the left’s conception of him. Going forward, I hope Trump will focus less on initiating petty arguments over Twitter and more on keeping the promises that attracted so many to his candidacy.