And on the 269th day, President Donald Trump tweeted about Hillary Clinton.
“I was recently asked if Crooked Hillary Clinton is going to run in 2020?” he wrote, the curious party going unnamed. “My answer was, ‘I hope so!’”
Twitter is the closest thing we have to a real-time window into Trump’s thoughts. For that reason, what he says can often be as telling as what he doesn’t. And today, like so many before it, he didn’t have anything to share on the Green Berets killed in Niger or the clean water shortage in Puerto Rico, where desperate Americans are now drinking from a hazardous-waste site. A DEA whistleblower’s claim that the drug industry and Congress had combined to stoke the opioid crisis also went unmentioned.
The Clinton micro-notion was Trump’s sixth tweet of the day, a modest morning output by his recent standards. It landed amid a push for the Republican tax plan (or, more precisely, an attack on its opponents) and a pair of tweets touting the good times on Wall Street.
A poll last week found that 70% of voters would prefer Trump not tweet from his personal account. But it’s hard to imagine – or remember – a world without the President perpetually signed on and posting. Twitter is fundamental to Trump’s political being, and not just because, as he explains it, the medium provides him and end-around past traditional media.
In fact, it’s a two-way street. Trump gets to mainline his every waking thought into the body politic and, as a byproduct, we get a heavy insight into what he really cares about. The divergence between “Teleprompter Trump” and “rally Trump” is plain as day. The first speaks, aided by a script, to narrowly defined, consensus political requirements. The latter is freestyle (often freeform) and raw.
His Twitter feed delivers a similar product. So when he hasn’t tapped out a message about the four US soldiers killed, and two more wounded, in an ambush by ISIS-aligned fighters in Niger, people noticed.
Asked Monday about his public silence in the aftermath, Trump during a press conference at the White House said he had written letters to the families of the slain soldiers, but they had not yet been mailed. Phone calls, he added, would follow at some point in the future, but before claiming, falsely, “President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls.” (Pressed on that remark, he backtracked, saying: “I was told that he didn’t often.”)
The day after the attack in Niger, when White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders offered the administration’s “thoughts and prayers” to the friends and families of the dead, Trump was tweeting about the stock market, parroting a dubious attack line on the Democrat running for governor in Virginia and asking why the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t “looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up.”
Also conspicuous by their absence from the presidential feed: deadly wildfires sweeping through Northern California. At the time of writing, at least 40 people have been killed and about 5,700 structures destroyed. Mandatory evacuation orders are now being lifted in some areas, including the city of Napa, but more than a dozen blazes are still burning.
Trump hasn’t visited California since taking office and doesn’t appear poised to make an exception here. Last Tuesday, he told reporters he’d spoken with the governor and pledged that “the federal government will stand with the people” there. He then welcomed the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House. Trump has tweeted about the Penguins twice in the last three weeks.
But his quiet on social media following violent or deadly attacks on Muslim Americans, on the street or inside houses of worship, has drawn the most attention. When a mosque in Minnesota was bombed in August – in what Gov. Mark Dayton called “a criminal act of terrorism” – Trump kept mum.
In June, when an undocumented immigrant, Darwin Martinez Torres, was charged with killing a Muslim woman, Nabra Hassanen, the President again let the news pass without a word. Certain details of the case remain unresolved, like whether it was a hate crime (police have said road rage set off the attack), but Trump is hardly one to stand by for all the details – especially when he sees political opportunity.
Hassanen’s death, though, seemed to confuse his instincts. Her alleged killer was an undocumented immigrant, but she – unlike Kate Steinle, who was memorialized by legislation that Trump supports and has promoted on Twitter – was a Muslim woman of color. Months on, as the case heads to a grand jury, Trump has yet to tweet his thoughts – no condemnation, no condolences, just a piercing silence.