Since Twitter launched in 2006, no politician has managed to exploit the platform to such great effect as President-elect Donald Trump. 140 characters at a time, Trump has redefined how social media can impact an election and has shown no sign of changing course once he takes office on January 20.
And why would he? Twitter has proven to be a key method for achieving his political ends, especially now that Trump’s latest tweets routinely become a national news story. Many condemn Trump’s cavalier use of Twitter as unbecoming of the presidency, but overlook how impulsive reporting has reaffirmed the practice at every turn.
The latest example is a series of tweets where Trump chastised Congress for prioritizing changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics, tweeting:
News outlets, like CNN, played up the ordeal as Trump flexing his political muscle while whipping congressional Republicans into shape. Meanwhile, the actual nuance of the situation has been lost. In less than 300 characters, Trump landed some political capital and millions of dollars in free press by saying the completely obvious fact that Congress should focus on more important things.
But Trump can do more on Twitter than cash in on a politically ripe moment. He’s also pioneering an unprecedented tactic in international relations — communicating online publicly with rival heads of state. Trump has taken numerous occasions to lambast and laud rival leaders, the consequences of which will be borne out in the years to come. Last week, Trump praised Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, for not retaliating to sanctions against Russian diplomats.
Conversely, China has been a regular target for criticism by the president-elect. In December, Trump tweeted:
It’s a potentially risky tactic, but whether or not Trump’s Twitter habit will impede his ability to govern will become apparent once he takes office. As for the national press, it’s incumbent upon them to recognize Trump’s Twitter account for what it really is, political theater that’s tailor-made for a press that publishes first and asks questions second.