It was said, in the 1980s, that Ronald Reagan was the first, and maybe the only GOP President, who could talk past the big media filter, straight to the American people, to maintain support. That he achieved such a thing without an alternate medium to TV or newspapers was all but miraculous.
Donald Trump managed to do the same thing during the election campaign, but he has had the new media to rely on and exploit. That includes conservative-run publications, aggregators and websites; Fox News; Facebook as a disseminator of the counter-story; and, of course, Twitter.
Twitter has allowed Trump to personally counter the inherently anti-Trump interpretation — spin — attached to pretty much all mainstream media “news” stories about him, his actions, his policies. Republicans have waited a long time for a candidate — now President-elect — willing to fight the liberal narrative that is always proffered to attack GOP politicians and policies, often successfully.
Had George W. Bush done that, his presidency would have ended better. Had Mitt Romney been able to do it, he might have been elected President.
It was especially valuable given the Clinton campaign’s use of dirty tricks and astro-turf protesters to disrupt Trump events, seeking to portray him as violent and erratic.
So it is asking a lot to suggest that the President-elect sheath his phone, and lay off Twitter for a while. And yet, that is the right thing for Trump to do. As the showman in Trump knows, scarcity is valuable for a leader — especially a small “r” republican leader. It keeps him from getting stale and predictable.
I’m not going to argue for “dignity,” because dignity has been cited too often in telling Republicans not to stoop to the level of fighting back.
The best reason to be a little scarce is that social media has created the possibility for an American President to be in our faces all day long, a ubiquitous presence, of the Orwellian, “dear leader” sort. Trump should exercise every bit of discipline he has not to allow himself to permeate the daily life of American citizens that way.
Even his biggest fans should not constantly be waiting for him to check in, telling them what to think. Because the whole point of electing someone to take an axe to the nanny state is that citizens are adults who need a lot less guidance from government. Restraint speaks louder than words.
The second reason is that the words of the President of the United States move markets (ask Boeing) and send way too many signals around the world, to control in any offhand comment, tweeted in the moment. In fact, offhand comments of any sort are now potentially problematic.
It’s also problematic to have allowed himself to be drawn into a Twitter war with a guy like Chuck Jones, head of the United Steelworkers Union at the Carrier plant where Trump just cut the deal to save a large number of jobs. Jones, who challenged Trump on the precise number of jobs saved — he says 800 vs. the 1,100 claimed — looked petty for picking that fight. After all, he should be on Trump’s side on this issue, since they both wanted the jobs to stay. And he might consider how many of his union members are Trump supporters.
But Trump shouldn’t have given in to the temptation to point out the obvious — that Jones had failed where he succeeded. Nope, it was not at all necessary to tweet, “If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana.”
The general rule for such a powerful person should be: Never attack an individual American on Twitter. The potential for it to devolve is too great. And the phenomenon of supporters threatening Trump’s opponents on social media is actually ugly and dangerous.
The fact that Trump’s tweeting has been cut substantially since the election suggests that he knows this, and is transitioning to presidential status and behavior, which is part of the point of the transition period.
Once in the White House, the President has a great many surrogates who needn’t be as restricted in their use of Twitter or any other communications vehicle to clear up matters. This President is lucky, for instance, to have Kellyanne Conway, who is extraordinarily skillful at verbal combat, in any medium. Let her keep the phone.
Schiffren is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.