He hates being criticized, challenged or even cautioned by his own advisers. When they do speak up, President Donald Trump retaliates by doubling down on his virtual megaphone: Twitter.
To his base, which led the way to his 46.1 percent of the popular vote, Trump’s provocative tweets are a daily reminder they backed a Washington outsider who revels in using a “tremendous platform” to bypass what he calls the “fake media.” It doesn’t matter if his comments are true — and multiple fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog have shown that many of the assertions he tweets are false. Trump’s 140-character outbursts are just what many among his 41.5 million online followers want to hear.
To his critics, the tweets sent from his personal handle — @realDonaldTrump — rather than the official @POTUS account are proof he’s a narcissistic “bully” they consider misogynistic, ill-informed and racist. They say his tweetstorms, while protected by the First Amendment and even by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, often create false controversies aimed at switching attention away from things like his failed health-care reform efforts and the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Regardless of whether you support or oppose Trump, he is a dramatic demonstration of the platform’s impact in that space,” said Adam Sharp, Twitter’s former head of news, government and elections.
How dramatic? Two-thirds of Americans now get some of their news from social media, a Pew Research Center study found in September. And nearly 75 percent of Twitter subscribers now get their news from the service, 15 percent more than a year ago, Pew said. That translates to 11 percent of all US adults getting their news on Twitter. Dorsey has repeatedly boasted that Twitter is the first place where news breaks globally.
A year after Trump became US president in one of the biggest political upsets in modern history, candidates for any public office now understand that social media has changed the political landscape, said longtime Republican political strategist Rick Wilson, who’s now one of Trump’s most outspoken critics. Not so long ago, cozying up to reporters on TV and radio was “the most powerful weapon” in a candidate’s arsenal, Wilson said. Trump has shown that may not be necessary anymore.
‘Bing, bing, bing’
Initially claiming his Twitter use would be “very restrained” once in office, Trump, 71, relies on the platform more than ever to say what’s on his mind, often firing off tweetstorms in the predawn hours. His tweets drive headlines, and they’re hard to ignore — in June, the White House told the world to consider them official presidential statements. Those tweets cover just about anything, from the National Anthem, disaster response and criticisms of his former rival Hillary Clinton to his belittling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Between June 1, 2016, and Nov. 1, 2017, he pumped out about 5,300 tweets.
“I doubt I’d be here without social media, to be honest with you,” Trump told Fox News in October. “When somebody says something about me, I’m able to go ‘bing, bing, bing,’ and I take care of it.”
The president uses “unconventional methods and communication tools,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN on Oct. 15. Tillerson said it’s because the president is pushing against the status quo. “Oftentimes, the tweets and the decisions [Trump] makes are intended to cause this forcing action,” Tillerson said. “The American people elected him to change the status quo, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Still, about 69 percent of American voters think Trump should stop tweeting, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in late September. That sentiment got turned into reality briefly last week, when a departing contract worker at Twitter suspended Trump’s account for 11 minutes.
“There’s a harsh reality that voters don’t see him fit to be the commander-in-chief,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. Previous polls, he added, show a similar pattern.
Two weeks ago, Trump had a 33 percent job approval rating, the lowest of any president since 1938, according to the most recent Gallup Poll.
Trump has such a bullying presence on the platform that many of his fellow Republicans refuse to challenge him publicly because of the “FOMT — Fear of Mean Tweets” he may unleash on them, strategist Wilson said.
That may be deliberate.
“My use of social media is not presidential,” Trump tweeted in July. “It’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.”