The story of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the White House is best told through the President’s favorite medium – Twitter.
Trump delivers the occasional speech and gives his share of interviews, usually to Fox News, but his most direct line to the public – and the public’s best insight into his thinking – comes in bursts of 140 characters or less, typically delivered before most Americans are out of bed.
Over the course of nearly 500 tweets from his personal account, Trump has birthed new conspiracy theories (and with them further congressional inquiries), escalated a confrontation with the judiciary and sought to wield the power of his office against intransigent legislators on Capitol Hill.
These are Trump’s five most consequential tweets – the posts that, for better or worse, have come to define the opening days of his rambunctious and often ramshackle presidency.
1. Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
Of all he’s said or done since taking office on January 20, Trump’s March 4 tweet accusing former President Barack Obama of ordering US spies to target his campaign was the most outlandish and damaging. The claim, offered with no evidence then or now, was publicly shot down by the director of the FBI, who was asked about it while testifying under oath on Capitol Hill.
But even absent anything resembling proof, Trump loyalists, from top aides to elected officials, have gone to great lengths in service of crediting the lie. They parroted a bogus report by a Fox News contributor suggesting Obama outsourced the skullduggery to UK spooks. And in perhaps the weirdest tale in 100 days of them, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, California Rep. Devin Nunes, recused himself from a probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged Russian connections after ethics complaints piled up following a clandestine meeting at the White House.
More broadly, the tweet highlighted Trump’s increasing paranoia over damaging news reports and political resistance to his agenda. Blaming Obama had by early March become a familiar line of attack. About a week earlier, he said in an interview that his predecessor was “behind” town hall protests against GOP officials and leaks from inside his own administration.
“In terms of him being behind things, that’s politics,” Trump said. “And it will probably continue.”
He did not, then or now, offer any evidence to support the claim.
2. The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
With his first travel ban tied up in court challenges, Trump lashed out against the federal judge in Washington state who temporarily blocked its enforcement.
The attack – in particular, the “so-called judge” portion – had a broader sting. Trump’s own Supreme Court nominee, the since-confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch, felt compelled to respond (for political purposes if nothing else) and used the words “demoralizing” and “disheartening” to describe the President’s tweets.
In a subsequent post, on February 5, Trump said the judge’s decision put the country in harm’s way and that, “If something happens,” Americans should “blame him and court system.”
3. The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!
Trump seemed ready to move on from the GOP’s failed attempt at overhauling Obamacare after the bill was pulled before what was expected to be an embarrassing defeat on the House floor. But as the days passed, and critics piled on, the hunt for scapegoats ratcheted up.
He settled on a pair of groups, “The Freedom Caucus” and “Dems,” who taken together make up more than half of all the legislators on Capitol Hill. The charges soon become more specific, as Trump called out GOP Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador.
While the relationship between Trump and the tea party squad remains friendly enough, the tweets underscored just how different, and difficult, negotiations were going to be in his new job. Unlike his time in the boardroom of a company he owned, Trump does not have final say on the biggest questions facing the country. And as seen here, the campaign-era strategy of hyping his causes – or slamming his opponents – on Twitter doesn’t quite translate to the presidency.
More recently, health care reform talks have restarted.
4. The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!
Politicians have suggested this in the past, but Trump was the first to out and say it. This tweet represented a major escalation of his public war on the press and a (perhaps) high point for top aide Steve Bannon, who likes to say “the media is the opposition party.”
Despite some backlash, mostly from reporters familiar with Trump’s deep personal affection for seeing his name in print, he doubled down days later in his remarks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I called the fake news the enemy of the people, and they are,” he said in reference to the tweet. “They are the enemy of the people because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.”
He then said reporters “shouldn’t be allowed” to use unnamed sources, before using the tale of his friend “Jim,” a “very, very substantial guy,” who scrapped his annual vacations to Paris in light of recent terror attacks, as an explanation for why the US needed “to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.”
5. Congratulations to our great military men and women for representing the United States, and the world, so well in the Syria attack.
Whether you agreed with it or not, Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike on Syria after the Assad regime gassed a rebel stronghold, killing innocent civilians, is for now the seminal moment of this presidency.
This tweet applauding service members was a sober departure from his usual social media output. Later in the day, though, Trump was back to his more familiar self. In response to reports that Syrian planes were taking off from the same air base targeted less than 24 hours earlier – in part because the attack didn’t target the on site runway.
“The reason you don’t generally hit runways is that they are easy and inexpensive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!,” he tweeted a few hours later.
Tweets sent from January 20 to April 27 by category:
What’s the message? Trump’s tweets cover a lot of ground
Unlike his predecessor, Trump uses Twitter to convey a variety of messages in a range of tones. These charts break down his usage by a mix of style and substance.
There are, in our accounting, six categories of Trump tweets.
1. Typical presidential: These are the mundane entries, stuff that any politician could write, like when he reports back on a “great” meeting with constituents or a foreign leader.
2. Political comment or argument: Trump makes his most raw political and policy arguments via Twitter. Though some of these might include criticism of political opponents, they are fundamentally meant to advance his agenda.
3. Personal attack: These are not. These tweets serve, first and foremost, as a means of attacking an opponent. The policy dispute is a secondary matter.
4. Complaining about the press: From the “failing New York Times” to “Fake News CNN,” these are Trump’s familiar outbursts at the media.
5. Conspiracy theory: Trump has used his account to launch or amplify conspiracy theories, most notably his own baseless assertion that former President Barack Obama tapped the phones at Trump Tower before the election.
6. Self plugs: The President likes to announce his forthcoming media appearances via tweet and tout positive reports on his job performance. Self promotion of this variety falls under “self plug” for our purposes.
Breakdown by time of day and topic
CNN’s Tal Yellin contributed to this report.