It is not clear what constraints the President would be able to apply to social media companies through executive order. Regardless, the move raises the stakes in Trump’s battle with Silicon Valley, and highlights what he believes is a fight worth having. In many ways, the latest episode with Twitter feeds Trump’s narrative that there are powerful forces in the media aligned against him, and that his is the only voice his supporters can trust.
“This plays right into President Trump’s hands,” said Jason Miller, the communications director for Trump’s 2016 campaign and someone who has been directly involved with Trump’s social media strategy. “They basically handed him a massive gift.”
Many of Trump’s political allies rushed to his defense on Wednesday.
“Twitter is engaging in 2020 election interference. They are putting their thumb on the scale,” said Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a loyal Trump supporter and surrogate during an appearance on the Steve Bannon-produced podcast War Room Pandemic. “The notion that they would outsource fact checking to people who have been wrong about everything is an insult.”
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said that his team no longer pays for advertising on Twitter and accused the tech giant of purposefully influencing the election to hurt the President.
“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”
Other people inside the administration, and even some of Trump’s closest advisers, are regularly caught off-guard by what appears on his feed — if not always surprised.
While his messages often have the effect of distracting from an unfortunate headline, people close to the President say it is their impression that he genuinely believes many of the more conspiratorial things he sends — including debunked theories about his predecessor — and that he isn’t raising them only in the hopes of diverting attention elsewhere.
Scavino is usually the person who locates the internet content — sometimes from fringe sources and often incendiary — that finds it way to Trump’s Twitter feed, though other friends and advisers have suggested tweets and retweets as well.
Scavino’s West Wing office provides him regular access to the President, as does his near-ubiquitous presence on Trump’s trips, where he is often seen videotaping or photographing the President. He is believed to be the only other person with access to @RealDonaldTrump, though the mechanics of the account have never been confirmed by the White House.
Trump’s tweet rants have always been controversial. But recently, as the US death toll from the pandemic has approached 100,000, they have become uncomfortable even for some of the President’s most prominent supporters.
“I do think the President should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican. “He’s the commander in chief of this nation and he is causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died.”
But those who understand the President’s social media habits believe it is unlikely that he will change his behavior any time soon. Miller, who has been present as Trump crafts his tweets, said the President views the platform as an outlet where he can speak directly to his supporters.
“It is one of President Trump’s super powers,” Miller said. “He understood very early on that social media, Twitter in particular, gave him unvarnished access to the American people and his supporters. What Trump maximized was social media’s ability to bypass the artificial conversation created by the mainstream media.”