CNN Special Report “Twitter and Trump” with Bill Weir explores the President’s prolific and controversial use of the social media platform Friday at 9 p.m. ET.
Before 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, the President of the United States had already:
- Attacked not one but two sitting senators of his own party.
- Savaged the “fake” news media.
- Tripled down on his comments regarding the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Echoed the rhetoric of the far right by insisting that our “culture” was being destroyed by the cult of political correctness.
Donald Trump did all of these things via Twitter – starting at 6:19 a.m. ET with a tweet alleging that “publicity seeking” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) had purposely contorted his comments after the violent white supremacist protests over the weekend and ending at 9:21 a.m. ET with a slippery slope argument that liberals were responsible for the “beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks” by calling for the removal of statues honoring Confederates.
So, for three hours – at least – the most powerful person in the world was glued to social media, gleefully settling scores.
This is not a new reality for Trump. Since he became a candidate, he has used Twitter as a combination of a focus group and a blowtorch.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump would regularly try out new attack lines – “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco” – on Twitter to see if his fans responded to them. If they did, those attacks were quickly inserted into his stump speech or his debate answers.
He would also use Twitter to fight back against his critics, to lambast the media and to, generally speaking, provoke. (Never forget: Trump is, at root, a provocateur more than he is a politician.)
Despite his promises to be “so presidential you will be so bored” if elected, Trump hasn’t changed one iota. That’s most obvious in his Twitter habits. While he went through patches – a few days, maybe a week – early in his presidency when he would lay off Twitter entirely or only tweet his speeches or other more generic political pap, Trump has always returned to his Twitter addiction with a vengeance.
His tweets have produced many of the defining moments of his presidency – none of which are good. His March tweet that President Barack Obama had wire-tapped Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign sparked weeks of questions – zero of which he could answer. His repeated attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell helped to turn Republicans in the Senate against him. His personal attack on MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski was roundly denounced by politicians – and humans – of all stripes.
Take just this week as an example of what Trump’s Twitter addiction is doing to his presidency.
* Monday (9 tweets, 3 retweets): Trump used Twitter to twice attack Ken Frazier after the Merck CEO stepped down from a presidential council on manufacturing due to Trump’s tepid condemnation of the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who protested in Charlottesville. Trump tweeted: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
One of his retweets was of Jack Posobiec, a high-profile Trump fan who is a member of the alt-right and helped promote conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Seth Rich and “Pizzagate.”
* Tuesday (2 tweets): A slow day on social media for Trump – although he made lots and lots of news when, in a press availability at Trump Tower, he said there was blame on “on both sides” for Charlottesville and that the removal of the Lee statue would lead to a sort of culture relativism that would eliminate statues of past presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. (Presidential historian Tim Naftali disagrees.)
Despite the relative paucity of tweets, Trump did manage to take a shot at the growing number of CEOs following Frazier’s lead in resigning from White House executive councils following the controversy caused by what the President said (and didn’t say) after Charlottesville. Trump tweeted: “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”
* Wednesday (12 tweets, 4 retweets): Trump started his hump day bright and early with a 6:12 a.m. ET attack on Amazon. Trump tweeted: “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt - many jobs being lost!” (Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has been a regular target for Trump, likely due to Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post.) Three hours later, Trump retweeted Harlan Hill, a prominent Trump ally, who, two days earlier, had sent this: “Watching MSM you would have no idea @realDonaldTrump clearly, unambiguously & repeatedly condemned the bigotry & violence in Charlottesville.”
Trump also congratulated himself for his handling of North Korea and for his endorsement of appointed Alabama Sen. Luther Strange: “Wow, Senator Luther Strange picked up a lot of additional support since my endorsement,” Trump tweeted. (Strange finished second.)
* Thursday (8 tweets): Trump has taken it to another level today. Not only did he attack Graham and offer words of praise for a primary challenger to Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, he also seemed to cast the removal of the Lee statue as a first step in a broader elimination of a culture he very much values.
“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted. Worth noting: The Lee statue in question was built in the 1920s, according to Naftali. “The push to remove these statues is not equivalent to an ahistorical effort to remove the story of the Confederacy from US history,” Naftali said.
Trump’s sum total for 4 (really 3 1/2) days: 31 tweets, 7 retweets.
For Trump, each tweet and retweet represents a small victory for him over his many enemies (some within his administration, the media, Democrats, liberals, PC police, etc., etc.). As he sees it, he’s already spoken directly to his 36 million Twitter followers 38 times this week, delivering exactly the message he wanted to send. And no one could stop him!
The obvious problem here is that Trump isn’t the President of just his (shrinking) base. He is the President of everyone – including the 65 million+ people who voted for Hillary Clinton and the tens of millions of eligible voters who didn’t vote for either candidate.
That’s the fundamental difference between being president and being a candidate for president. In the latter role, all you need to know is make sure the people who love you really love you – and turn out to vote for you. In the former role, you are asked to be bigger, more magnanimous – a leader not just for one party or the other but for the country.
Trump, largely through his tweets and other off-the-cuff pronouncements in the five days since the Charlottesville tragedy, has abdicated that role of moral leader of the country. Throwing red meat to a base hungry for it is the opposite of what is required of a leader in moments like these.
And, from a purely political perspective, Trump’s burn-all-the-bridges approach to politics – with Twitter as his preferred incendiary device – makes little sense either.
Trump may not like McConnell or Graham or McCain or Flake (or Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, whom he has also bashed on Twitter), but the reality is that they are elected representatives who he needs to pass his agenda. (The failure of health care reform is indicative of just how direct – and negative – an impact Trump’s burn-the-bridges approach has on his agenda.)
You can’t spend your day running down a guy’s car to everyone you meet and then ask him for a ride home. That’s not how the world works. But it is how Trump operates. And it’s why his presidency is headed in reverse.
The problem with burning every bridge you come across is that, eventually, you will be stranded – a man on an island. Which is exactly where Trump finds himself today.