If Donald Trump’s Twitter feed was a must-read for political junkies before the election, it is now a must-read for anybody trying to understand the next leader of the free world.
Since Thanksgiving Day, the world has learned the following about President-elect Trump via the popular social-networking tool:
- That he is serious about getting the Carrier air conditioning company to stay in the United States.
- That he marked the passing of Fidel Castro with an exclamation point, and wants to renegotiate the terms of US-Cuban relations.
- And most important, that the presidential vote recount in Wisconsin and possibly Michigan and Pennsylvania has gotten under Trump’s skin, big league. His epic tweet storm on Sunday – including a claim that “millions of people who voted illegally” cost him the popular vote – has ironically cast doubt on an Electoral College result that favors Trump. Fact-checking sites have debunked Trump’s claim.
If anything, Thanksgiving weekend displayed a key element of Trump’s leadership style: He remains committed to using social media as a way to communicate directly with the world, bypassing the traditional media. (He hasn’t had a press conference since July.)
“It’s a great form of communication,” Trump said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Nov. 13, speaking of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and touting his millions of followers. “I have a method of fighting back.”
Trump also said he would continue to use social media as president, adding that he would be “very restrained," before going back to praising it: “I find it tremendous. It’s a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of.”
Technology and the presidency have come a long way since 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was cleared to use his beloved Blackberry for personal use. Twitter launched in 2006, but Mr. Obama didn’t join until May 2015. Even then, he has kept his engagement fairly limited. Tweets composed by Obama himself end with his initials, “BO.”
As a rule, the president’s “no drama” ethos has infused his social media presence. With Trump, it’s all about the drama. And to his supporters, that’s the point: This is Trump being Trump, unfiltered and unapologetic. This approach, both on social media and on the stump, helped get him elected.
And it may also be deepening the wedge between his voters and the mainstream media.
“Think about it: Every time Trump claims, without substantiation, that millions voted illegally, and every time the news media call him out for it, that only delegitimizes the media among Trump's supporters,” write NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann.
Why focus is on 'sore winner', not sore loser
But to many observers, Trump’s unfiltered style has flown in the face of presidential restraint – a concept that mattered less when he was a candidate, but grows in importance as Inauguration Day approaches. Will Trump become more “presidential,” as he has long promised he would? Or are the rough edges essential to his persona?
Trump’s ability to communicate directly with the world takes on special importance on matters of foreign policy and national security. If today’s tweet storm is about illegal-voter conspiracy theories, which are likely only to agitate his supporters, will tomorrow’s be aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin or the leadership of Iran – and centered on matters of global importance?
The recount move, a super-longshot effort led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, has created a major distraction from Trump’s presidential transition – a distraction that he has encouraged by issuing a stream of tweets.
The recount gambit has also not covered Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in glory, exposing her to charges of hypocrisy as her campaign participates in the effort. She did, after all, concede the election soon after it was called.
But Mrs. Clinton’s image as a “sore loser” is overshadowed by Trump’s image as a “sore winner” – if only because he has much more at stake. He’s the next president, and is in the throes of setting up his administration.
And yet now part of the narrative coming out of the holiday weekend is that Trump is allowing himself to be sidetracked by a fringe candidate’s quixotic effort to reexamine the votes in three battleground states.
What really sets Trump apart
By the Monday after Thanksgiving, Trump was back at his headquarters in Manhattan, and back to the business of setting up his presidency. The other drama of the weekend centered on the debate over who will be his secretary of State – and the clear objections by top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as conveyed Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Governor Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, had been a leading “never-Trumper” during the 2016 campaign, but was still invited recently to meet with Trump for a chat. The debate over whether the job at State should go to Romney, or former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani – a Trump loyalist – or someone else has fascinated reporters for more than a week.
And it has led to predictions that a Trump White House will be rife with turmoil.
That seems overstated. After all, Election Day was less than three weeks ago, and Trump is ahead of many presidential predecessors in pulling his team together. When he named Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama as his first Cabinet choice (attorney general) on Nov. 18, that put Trump ahead of most of his immediate predecessors.
But what really sets Trump apart as a president-elect is his continued – and at times, inflammatory – use of social media. In tone and temperament, he is miles apart from Obama – who is really the only basis of comparison, given the newness of the genre.
Yet it has also come out that Trump continues to consult regularly on the phone with Obama. The two spoke on Saturday for 45 minutes about Cuba and other issues, Ms. Conway revealed Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
So Trump is also revealing a pragmatic side. He’s just been elected to a job for which he is in a way unprepared, given his lack of experience in government, and he’s reaching out to the guy whose job he’s about to take over.
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Trump also got good news Monday afternoon on electoral matters: Michigan certified its result, handing its 16 electoral votes to Trump – though a recount still looms. But assuming none of the recounts overturn any results, Trump’s final victory in the Electoral College will stand at 306 to 232.
At the same time, Clinton’s lead in the national popular vote has risen to more than 2.1 million votes, as votes continue to be counted – a clear irritant to Trump, and the impetus for his claim that he “won the popular vote, if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” The popular vote doesn’t decide anything, but still matters, especially given the disparity with the Electoral College result.
Maybe Trump’s irritation will die down after the recount effort runs its course. Then maybe he’ll find something else to blast away at on Twitter. Or maybe he will decide that that kind of behavior doesn’t fit his new role as president of the United States. With Trump calling the shots, only he knows for sure.