Much as we would like to, many of us find Donald Trump difficult to ignore, as he dominates debates, news coverage and early polls. Easily overlooked, however, is what he has managed to do with social media - most jarringly, Twitter.
After the GOP debate on Fox each candidate spent time in the spin room, trying to convince reporters to interpret the results their way. But Trump wasn’t satisfied. Seeking to spin without the inconvenience of dealing with journalists, he tweeted long into the night.
By dawn Trump had authored 35 messages, among them: “I really enjoyed the debate tonight even though the @FoxNews trio, especially @megynkelly, was not very good or professional!”
Trump’s debate dust-up with Kelly captured headlines, although Trump, who thrives on claiming to be a tell-it-like-it-is maverick, must have been thrilled when Kelly invited him to be outrageous from the get-go. His protest was a bit like Br’er Rabbit’s plea, “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!” Trump basked in every nonsensical minute of it.
Later, it served Trump’s purpose to have a (temporary) “fight” with his chums at Fox News. And so he tweeted: “Wow, @megynkelly really bombed tonight. People are going wild on Twitter! Funny to watch.”
Trump has 3.7 million followers, but his reach is currently much larger because most news organizations are eager to republish his most vile declarations.
So, after he tired of bashing Megyn Kelly, he turned his late-night attention to Fox’s pollster. “@FrankLuntz, your so-called ‘focus groups’ are a total joke. Don’t come to my office looking for business again. You are a clown!”
Trump has discovered that social media enable him in a way no other candidate has ever experienced. He can instantly distribute his venom and have it echo around the globe, without any filtering.
Sometimes he uses this power to fawn over those who praise him, such as the conservative commentator about whom he tweeted: “Thank you @krauthammer for your nice comments on @oreillyfactor.”
Yet, a few days later, when Charles Krauthammer’s debate analysis struck Trump the wrong way, there was: “The hatred that clown @krauthammer has for me is unbelievable - causes him to lie when many others say Trump easily won debate.”
Soon after, Trump tweeted again: “Dopey @krauthammer should be fired.”
Now that the faux feud with Fox has been put aside (he’s back on “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity,” grinning like a cat who swallowed a canary), he’s tweeting about other presidential candidates.
Regarding the only Republican to score as well as he did in the debates - albeit in the preliminary bout - Trump tweeted: “I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache. She has zero chance!”
And a few days later he was hissing at the senator from Kentucky: “Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!”
Tweeting is nothing new for Trump - but now he’s doing it on a much larger stage with higher stakes. A year ago he posted: “Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood!”
Does any of this matter in the grand political scheme of things? Probably not. Social media is an established part of the system - a system that, even without Donald Trump, is becoming less disciplined and more concerned with “Breaking News” than ever.
But long after Trump goes back to being just another loudmouthed billionaire, it will remain unfortunate that he has stretched the bounds of civility and helped unleash the devil in Twitter’s bottle.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker