It’s entertaining how the U.S. presidential candidates are using Twitter this time around. Four years ago, Twitter was used to appeal to Millennials using upbeat messages designed to show how each candidate was worthy of their attention and support. As evidenced by his victory, Barack Obama did a better job of this than Mitt Romney, but the tweets were of an informative and socially polite nature. At least that’s how I remember it.
Four years from now, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure I’ll remember the nastiness of this campaign’s tweets. Donald Trump uses Twitter extensively and many of his tweets can be classified as attacks on his opponents. The media report Trump’s tweets daily because the personal nature of the attacks is newsworthy and keeps people coming back for more.
Trump’s Twitter opponents include other candidates, of course, but also those who have spoken out against him or have otherwise acted in a manner which the presumptive republican nominee feels is worthy of rebuke. In April, the New York Times published “The 217 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List.” Some examples.
1. Referring to Elizabeth Beck, lawyer: “she wanted to breast pump in front of me at dep.”
2. About South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!”
3. About Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly: “Can’t watch Crazy Megyn anymore”
4. After a Supreme Court decision: “my judicial appointments will do the right thing unlike (Chief Justice) Roberts”
5. Regarding Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin: “one of the dumber bloggers”
Donald Trump’s supporters don’t appear troubled by this vitriol. When questioned, they seem to either dismiss the comments as just part of campaigning, or they say they admire how Trump is putting an end to political correctness.
For the rest of the electorate, however, these attacks have an effect. Recent polls show that 67% of Americans have a negative opinion of Donald Trump (Washington Post/ABC News April 6-10, 1,010 U.S. Adults). That makes his chances of winning 270 electoral votes in November daunting, especially since a substantial portion of the electorate state that they would not vote for him.
To exploit this perceived weakness with the candidate, I suspect that we’re going to see months of Trump Twitter-Baiting. That is when people who oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy will tweet something designed to elicit a response. History shows that Mr. Trump will respond will personal attacks. If the original tweet originates with a woman, Trump’s response – especially if of a personal nature – may offend many women voters. There’s already an advertisement for Hilary Clinton in which women read derogatory comments spoken or tweeted by Trump.
The latest example of the Twitter war involves Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. It began following the Indiana primary on May 3rd when Warren tweeted “There’s more enthusiasm for @realDonaldTrump among leaders of the KKK than leaders of the political party he now controls.” She also accused Trump of building a “campaign on racism, sexism, and xenophobia.”
This is criticism of both Mr. Trump’s appeal and of his campaign strategy, but it was a measured statement. The tweet didn’t hit the level of personal insult, just implied insult. This is a traditional campaign strategy – you don’t call the candidate stupid, for example, you say that the candidate’s policies have no basis in fact thus implying stupidity.
Trump’s response to Warren’s tweet at a rally in Oregon was more personal. He called her a “goofus” and a “basketcase.” In the Twitter exchange, trump also called her claims to Native American heritage “phony” and Warren also turned personal by calling Trump a “bully who has a single play in his playbook—offensive lies thrown at anyone who calls him out.”
After a few days lull, the war heated up again last week. Trump called Warren “one of the least effective Senators in the entire U.S. Senate” in a tweet and she responded by calling out the presumptive republican candidate for his stance on Wall Street, the minimum wage and women.
1. Trump: “Goofy Elizabeth Warren has been one of the least effective Senators in the entire U.S. Senate. She has done nothing!”
2. Warren: “We get it, @realDonaldTrump: When a woman stands up to you, you’re going to call her a basket case. Hormonal. Ugly.”
3. Warren: “You care so much about struggling American workers, @realDonaldTrump, that you want to abolish the federal minimum wage?”
4. Warren: “You’re so concerned about Wall Street, @realDonaldTrump, that you say you’d “absolutely” repeal Dodd-Frank?”
5. Warren: “When asked what gov should stop doing, @realDonaldTrump said overseeing banks! How can you be tough on Wall Street by letting them off?”
6. Warren: “Your policies are dangerous. Your words are reckless. Your record is embarrassing. And your free ride is over.”
7. Trump: “If the people of Massachusetts found out what an ineffective Senator goofy Elizabeth Warren has been, she would lose.”
8. Trump: “Goofy Elizabeth Warren is now using the woman’s card like her friend crooked Hillary. See her dumb tweet ‘when a woman stands up to you…'”
Donald Trump is trying to get the monikers to stick. He had good results with “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” and he’s trying to get “Crooked Hilary” and “Goofy Elizabeth Warren” into the American lexicon. It might be a little harder with the latest terms. There’s little dispute what a lie is and it was easy to find examples of Ted Cruz’ exaggerations for Trump to label as lies. All politicians tweak the facts, but Mr. Trump was very good at labeling Cruz’ statements as lies.
“Crooked” and “Goofy” are a little different. Crooked generally means financial impropriety and Clinton has not been accused of that. Goofy is something that can entertain us under the right circumstances. They’re not black and white terms. Also, Trump seems very much like a playground bully by attacking these two women with name calling, even though he could rightly claim of Warren, “She started it!”
I fully expect to see democratic political ads in the coming weeks in which Mr. Trump’s own words are used to portray him as a bully who picks on women. Clinton, and especially, Warren will be hailed as standing up for all people who have been subjected to unfair treatment.
This is a sound strategy. Women vote in higher numbers than do men, and in the past several elections, women have chosen the democratic presidential candidate by a good margin. The more often the Democratic Party can label Donald Trump as anti-women using his own words, the more likely Hilary Clinton will win the women’s vote and the 270 electoral votes needed to become president.
So prepare yourselves for the potential onslaught. There will likely be Twitter battles a couple times a week for the next five months, and if the exchange is with a woman who is overweight or unattractive in Trump’s opinion, his tweets may attack the person’s appearance. And the media will cover it, of course – it will drive the ratings.