Donald Trump was meeting then-campaign manager Brad Parscale and other political aides in the White House Cabinet Room early last year when the president made a demand: Find me a social media platform to use other than Twitter.
Someone in the meeting had piped up with concern that Twitter — Trump’s primary outlet for communicating with his supporters and the outside world — might eventually ban him over controversial posts. The Trump team mobilized after the meeting, with Parscale starting discussions about whether to have the president take up a major presence on the Trump-friendly platform Parler, posting messages there first in order to drive more users to the platform.
Trump never went for the idea, according to two people familiar with the deliberations. He was too fond of Twitter, especially his enormous audience on the platform. But now, after Twitter’s Friday evening decision to permanently ban him, the president will have no choice but to start from scratch somewhere else. And Trump is losing his online bully pulpit as he confronts an enormous political challenge: How to keep the Republican Party in lockstep behind him as a defeated ex-president, in the wake of a deadly riot at the Capitol that he stoked, and as he confronts likely impeachment proceedings.
“No question that Twitter was the president’s megaphone to his supporters and the media. In fact, without Twitter, he may not have been elected in 2016,” said Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio, who worked on the president’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns. “While I am sure he will find other means to communicate with his core loyalists, losing the ability to communicate to 88 million people all at once will definitely diminish his reach post-Jan. 20.”
Trump’s advisers have been preparing a post-presidency political apparatus that could be used to target Republicans he has declared disloyal, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Trump will have a massive financial arsenal at his disposal, having raised hundreds of millions of dollars since the election — much of it for a new political action committee he’s formed.
But Trump’s most potent political weapon was always likely to be his Twitter account, which he has long used to rally supporters against those he feels have wronged him. He went after Kemp and Thune repeatedly on Twitter over the last few months, accusing them of undermining his quest to overturn the election.
The mechanics of the social media platform meshed well with Trump’s overall goal of bending Republicans to his will, allowing him to post one attack after another in bursts. ings drew widespread coverage from media outlets, further amplifying their power.
Trump used his Twitter feed during the 2018 midterm elections to turn his supporters against once-popular Republicans like former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who either lost reelection or chose to retire. During the 2020 election cycle, he went after former Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party and ultimately didn’t seek reelection.
“Trump just lost his favorite end-around play and is sidelined,” said Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s former senior political adviser.
As they laid the groundwork for the reelection campaign in 2020, Trump advisers recognized that being banned from Twitter could prove devastating. There were ongoing conversations with the president last year about making Facebook his primary social media outlet instead, with aides regarding it as a more conservative-friendly platform. Conversations about Parler continued into the summer. But Trump always fell back onto Twitter.
Current and former Trump advisers were taken aback by Twitter’s announcement of the ban, with some conceding that it could severely hamper his ability to communicate as he approaches post-White House life. One former top adviser to the president remarked: “Without Twitter, he is just a guy talking to himself.”
What platform Trump turns to next is unclear. After Wednesday’s deadly storming of the Capitol, Facebook and Instagram announced that Trump would be banned “indefinitely,” at least through President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20. inauguration. YouTube has yet to ban Trump, but announced earlier in the week that it would suspend any channel echoing baseless claims of voter fraud, something Trump has given voice to.
There has long been talk that Trump could start his own news outlet once he leaves the White House, but people in his orbit have long been skeptical of that idea, reasoning that launching a new platform would be a major enterprise.
Shortly after his account was suspended, Trump turned to his official government Twitter feed to declare that he and his supporters would “look at the possibilities of building out our own platform in the near future.”
“We will not be silenced,” Trump wrote. “Stay tuned.”
appears to have been deleted by Twitter shortly after it was published. Twitter also suspended the Trump campaign account.
Many believe that Trump will find another means of getting his message out.
“I always knew that social media platforms were trigger-happy to ban the president. They just were waiting for the right moment. However, it will not stop the president’s ability to communicate. He’ll just post in another place,” said Parscale, who served as digital director on Trump’s 2016 campaign before becoming his 2020 campaign manager.
Others argue that Trump will have numerous other ways of reaching the news media, which is certain to cover post-White House life obsessively.
“It shuts down a major platform, yes, but he has other platforms,” said Kevin Madden, a top spokesperson on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “He can get on the air via talk radio or call into cable news whenever he wants. Any message or content he wants promoted still has a legion of supporters ready to push it.”
There is also the prospect that Trump’s absence from Twitter could leave a vacuum for one of his children to fill. Donald Trump Jr., who has used social media to establish a following of his own, is widely expected to remain visible and take on a kingmaker-type role in the Republican Party in the months to come.
The younger Trump, who has frequently accused technology companies of being biased against conservatives, took to Twitter after Friday evening’s announcement to castigate the move.
“Censorship is happening like NEVER before!” he posted.
Trump’s existential threat: How to keep GOP in line without Twitter Wire Services/ Politico.