How Trump’s tweets reshaped The White House
As Donald Trump prepares for this fall’s presidential election, he has been ramping up his activity on Twitter. In fact, Trump’s daily tweets have been the one constant during an unpredictable presidency.
While Trump was not the first U.S. president to tweet (Barack Obama), some historians say his use of the platform has dramatically reshaped how future White House occupants will communicate with Americans.
“I think he has broken down walls of formality that won’t go up again,” Julian Zelizer, a political history professor at Princeton University, told BNN Bloomberg in an email.
There are plenty of historical examples of presidents adopting newer mediums to more effectively get their message across to voters.
“One comparable situation would be FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and his use of radio,” Zelizer noted.
But few have spoken so forcefully and frequently with their constituents — a reflection of Twitter’s ease of use and real-time nature.
“This platform is very effective, given how quickly messages get into the bloodstream,” said Zelizer, who is also the author of Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party.
A BNN Bloomberg review of Trump’s personal Twitter account between January 2017 and July 2020 reveals more than 20,000 retweets and tweets have been posted during his time in the White House.
During his first year in office, Trump averaged seven tweets and retweets, each day. By comparison, Barack Obama initially took a seven-month break from tweeting, following his first term election.
Trump’s daily tweet numbers increased to more than nine per day in 2018, 21 per day in 2019 and more than 32 per day so far during this election year.
On June 5, he had his single highest volume day on the platform — a combined 200 tweets and retweets.
“He has become even more combative and unrestrained in his rhetoric,” according to historian Zelizer.
The unprecedented presidential tone and sheer volume of tweets have led Twitter, which is a public company, to retool some of its policies – further preparing the platform for how it may deal with the communication of future heads of state.
Here is BNN Bloomberg’s full email exchange with Zelizer:
Q: President Trump has long been a big Twitter user. How has his use of the platform evolved during his presidency?
A: “He has become even more combative and unrestrained in his rhetoric. He has an even stronger sense now than before of how to provoke a response from the media. Also, with COVID-19 and the policing crisis, each tweet is getting instantly entangled in very serious policy issues.”
Q: Typically, what is the president aiming to achieve – what message is he trying to send – when he tweets?
A: “Distract the media, communicate directly to his base.”
Q: Could he accomplish that without using Twitter?
“For sure, but this platform is very effective, given how quickly messages get into the bloodstream.”
Q: How does his communication style compare to that of past presidents?
A: “He is less guarded, less editorially-controlled.”
Q: Do you think his Twitter feed has permanently reshaped how a president communicates with Americans?
A: “Yes. I think he has broken down walls of formality that won’t go up again.”
Q: What about for Americans themselves? Has his use of Twitter changed how voters view the White House and the president?
“For many Americans, it has undermined the perception of a certain sense of decorum within the Oval Office.”
Q: Trump’s tweets have also prompted Twitter’s management to think more about how their platform is being used. Are there any comparable situations in presidential history?
A: “One comparable situation would be FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and his use of radio.”
Q: A president’s legacy often evolves. How might these tweets influence that legacy over time?
A: “It’s unclear today. Ultimately, it’s hard to predict legacies. But he is starting from an incredibly controversial and unpopular position.”