On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted a conspiracy theory that an elderly man hurt in a confrontation with police in Buffalo was somehow affiliated with Antifa – and may have faked the extent of his injuries.
By Tuesday afternoon, Republican senators were already playing out a familiar routine when it comes to the President’s tweets: Pleading total ignorance.
“I didn’t see it,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said of the Trump tweet. “You’re telling me about it. I don’t read Twitter. I only write on it.”
Colorado GOP Sen. Cory Gardner told reporters on Capitol Hill that he had not seen the tweet and “didn’t want to look at it,” according to Politico’s Burgess Everett. (Everett had the Trump tweet printed out, offering to allow any senator who claimed to not have seen it the opportunity to read it and then comment on it.)
“I’m not going to comment on the President’s tweets,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber.
If those responses sound familiar to you, they should. It’s the same thing most Republican elected officials said when Trump suggested on Twitter, with zero evidence, that former Florida Rep. Joe Scarborough was somehow involved in the death of a young aide in his district office in the early 2000s. Or when Trump tweeted that members of the so-called “Squad” – four freshman Congresswomen of color – should “go back” to the countries they came from. (Three of the four women were born in the United States; the other is a naturalized American citizen.) Or when Trump attacked former Defense Secretary James Mattis. Or former chief of staff John Kelly.
You get the idea. It happens a lot.
But just because we’ve seen this story before doesn’t make the Twitter-what-even-is-that response by Republicans acceptable. It’s not. And here’s why.
Trump’s dominant method of communication as President is Twitter. And long before he became President, it was his preferred way to broadcast his thoughts.
“I love Twitter. … it’s like owning your own newspaper – without the losses,” he said way back in 2012.
And he’s only embraced the medium more tightly since running for – and being elected – president. He uses it to live-tweet cable TV, yes, but also to settle scores with political opponents and float policy trial balloons. (And, yes, he even uses as a foil to continue his never-ending feud with the so-called elites.)
“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Trump said in 2017 in an interview with Fox Business Network. “Tweeting is like a typewriter – when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show. When somebody says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it. The other way, I would never be, get the word out.”
Given all of that, it is absolutely incumbent on Republican senators and House members (and Democratic ones, too!) to ensure they are keeping up to date with Trump’s Twitter feed.
That doesn’t mean they have to like doing it. Following Trump’s Twitter feed is by turns exhausting, depressing and enraging. (Trust me, I know from experience.) But for the same reason the media can’t ignore Trump’s tweets, neither can Republican elected officials. And that reason is this: He’s the President of the United States.
We’ve seen that Trump’s tweets have the ability to move the stock market. To affect how foreign leaders behave. To change how Republicans in Congress will vote. (See the recent FISA authorization bill.)
“The President is the President of the United States, so they’re considered official statements by the President of the United States,” said then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer back in 2017 when asked how Trump’s tweets should be treated.
So, to say – as so many elected Republicans do – that they don’t have to pay attention to what the President tweets is, on its face, deeply irresponsible. Monitoring what the President says, even if it’s as frequent and as frequently erratic as Trump’s tweets, has always been part of the job description for members of the House and Senate. You don’t get to not do it simply because a) it’s Twitter or b) you need an excuse not to respond to what the leader of your party tweets.
What Republican members of Congress are doing then is, to put it politely, a cop-out. They are pulling an ostrich move – burying their heads in the sand when it comes to Trump’s Twitter feed because they just don’t want to have to engage with what he is saying.
Which, again, I get! But if you are a Republican senator thrilled about the chances you have had to reshape the federal judiciary with conservative judges nominated by Trump, then you have to also deal with all of the other stuff that comes along with supporting this President.
It’s a package deal.