scorecardTrump's allies say his Twitter ban has backfired as they keep his voice loud on the social network: 'It's a net benefit'
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Trump's allies say his Twitter ban has backfired as they keep his voice loud on the social network: 'It's a net benefit'

Kayla Epstein,Kimberly Leonard   

Trump's allies say his Twitter ban has backfired as they keep his voice loud on the social network: 'It's a net benefit'
PoliticsPolitics7 min read
Former President Donald Trump was a prolific tweeter while he was in office.    Alex Brandon/AP Photo
  • Twitter gave the public an unfiltered view of Trump's thoughts when he was on the social network.
  • But he's been banned from the platform since 2021 for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol siege.

Fifteen months after his Twitter ban, Donald Trump is still dominating the social network's timeline.

Republican primary candidates who crave the former president's endorsement brandish pictures from their photo ops at Mar-a-Lago. The MAGA diaspora continues to hype their man using hashtags such as #AmericaFirst and #SaveAmerica. Journalists race to be the first to post Trump's deliberately tweet-like statements that his office sends over email.

Each day brings news stories about possible subpoenas, indictments, investigations, January 6 revelations, and the occasional shocking quote from one of Trump's interviews with a friendly outlet. The Twitter speculation that Trump will run for office again in 2024 hasn't stopped since he left the White House, and Twitter.

Some even argue it may have helped Trump to be off Twitter because he's not limited by the character counts, it has earned him sympathy among the GOP base, and he can still get his message out — including criticisms of Democratic policies — through his army of high-profile allies.

"It has actually ironically benefited him," to be off Twitter, said Sean Spicer, Trump's former White House press secretary and talk show host on Spicer & Co. on Newsmax. "And therefore I would argue that he should reap those benefits."

While Trump commands nowhere near the influence he previously held on Twitter, his continued presence shows the limits of Twitter's ban of such a prominent figure and foreshadows the attention he would be able to draw during a 2024 run even if the social media giant refuses to reinstate his accounts.

"It shows how the Trump ban from the platform was a Pyrrhic victory for the critics of the platform, who criticized Twitter for allowing him to stay on after repeated community standards and bending over backward to accommodate him," said Eric Wilson, the managing director of Startup Caucus and Republican digital strategist who has worked on presidential and congressional races.

"They succeed in getting him banned from the platform insofar as he himself can't hit send and tweet, but he still drives the conversation," Wilson said.

Former President Donald Trump smiles as he speaks at a rally, Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina.
Former President Donald Trump at a rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina.      Chris Seward/AP Photo

Banned but not forgotten

With the news that Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter, social media users are speculating over whether the world's richest person would help Trump reinstate his account.

Musk seemed to allude to major changes to the social media giant when he put out a statement announcing his bid, saying, "I believe free speech is a societal imperative for a functioning democracy."

Twitter — as well as Facebook — faced years of criticism for not taking more aggressive actions to curb Trump's most egregious posts. After he lost the 2020 election, the @realdonaldtrump feed turned into a firehose of disinformation about the election results, which critics say helped foment the January 6 riot.

Two days after Trump supporters ransacked the Capitol in a failed attempt to halt the certification of Joe Biden's election, Trump tweeted, "The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"

Two days later, Twitter officially announced it would be instituting a "permanent suspension" on Trump's account due to "the risk of further incitement of violence." At the time, Trump had 89 million followers.

"Trump unleashed an enormous amount of disinformation into Twitter's ecosystem," said Eli Kaplan, founding partner of the Democratic digital firm Rising Tide Interactive. "The ban has reduced his ability to do that."

The outlet had provided him an avenue to send his unfiltered thoughts to the masses. While most people in the US don't have a Twitter account, reporters would frequently cover Trump's tweets given that they were considered official White House statements, and so voters who weren't on Twitter would find out about them anyway.

"President Trump's authentic voice showed on Twitter," said Karoline Leavitt, a former assistant press secretary in Trump's White House who is now running for Congress in New Hampshire. "It's how he was able to cut through the media's ever-present bias and really speak directly to the American people."

But to some of Trump's critics and even of his allies, Twitter brought out the president's worst impulses. He'd type up his every thought, skewer his enemies, fire top officials, and send White House staff scrambling after a single tweet would undo weeks of planning.

Republican lawmakers frequently dodged reporters in the corridors of Capitol Hill to avoid answering questions about Trump's latest Twitter rant or conspiracy theory. Many would claim, "I don't read the tweets." Few reporters believed the lawmakers were being truthful about not being aware of Trump's tweets.

Trump can't have the same effect today, but his whereabouts — and voice — are still all over Twitter. Eager MAGA-world candidates clamor for his endorsement, tweeting out photos of themselves beside the former president during a visit to Mar-a-Lago.

Any gossip about Trump's latest beef with politicians becomes a trending story in Washington, such as anonymous sources telling Axios that Trump thinks Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a "dull personality" or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sharing that he likes his Trump-given nickname "old crow" because it was the name of former Sen. Henry Clay's favorite bourbon.

Spokespeople for Trump's post-presidency office did not respond to a request for comment about the team's social media strategy, but aides such as Liz Harrington will often tweet out screengrabs of his press releases.

"Dr. Oz is smart, tough, and will never let you down, therefore, he has my Complete and Total Endorsement. Good luck, Dr. Oz. our Country needs you!" spokesman Taylor Budowich tweeted verbatim from Trump's statement earlier this month endorsing the TV doctor for the US Senate race in Pennsylvania.

The fact that his statements read a lot like his former Twitter timeline hasn't gone unnoticed.

"His statements in many cases are often roughly the size of a tweet, and he has got enough people sending them out or retweeting them that it has virtually the same effect," Spicer said.

Republican candidate for US Senate of North Carolina Ted Budd, left, reacts as he takes the stage with former President Donald Trump, who endorsed him, during a rally Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Selma, N.C.
Republican candidate for US Senate Ted Budd of North Carolina , takes the stage with former President Donald Trump at a rally on April 9, 2022, in Selma, North Carolina.      Chris Seward/AP Photo

'It's been a net benefit' for Trump

Much in the way an overexposed celebrity retreats from the spotlight so that the public has a chance to miss them again, Trump could actually benefit from this pared-down presence on Twitter.

Being off Twitter has been a political gain for Trump, said Spicer, who opposes any Twitter bans on anti-censorship grounds.

"One of the biggest critiques of Trump from a lot of his detractors was the tone and tenor of his tweets," he said. "With the absence of that, and the reality of Biden's policies, then how well President Trump's policies worked comes shining through a lot greater."

Rather than unleashing a barrage of unplanned tweets that often undermined his own agenda and sent his allies scrambling, Trump is releasing fewer messages and giving Republicans fewer reasons to distance themselves from him, GOP insiders say.

"I think it's been a net benefit. His statements are still getting very widely covered," Wilson told Insider, noting that many journalists "can't help themselves" when Trump blasts out an emailed statement.

"It has also benefited him in making him look like a victim subject to censorship, and all the punishments by Big Tech," Wilson added.

Should Trump run again in 2024 and Twitter keeps its ban in place, it would deprive him of his main channel of communication to the masses. His primary rivals, should anyone challenge him, would have the advantage of being able to spin their debate performances and campaign maneuvers all over Twitter, which is the primary public square for any modern election.

"On the whole, it will probably be detrimental to his campaign if he doesn't have that tool in his toolbox," said Kaplan. "But I also think that's entirely of his own doing because he repeatedly spread information on his own platforms that are dangerous."

If given the opportunity to return to Twitter, Trump should not take it given how his message and support are going strong without his own handle on the social network, Spicer said. But another reason is that alternatives have emerged, including Trump's already-struggling network TRUTH Social, GETTR, and Parler, which Spicer said have been "good for the conservative movement."

Asked whether he missed anything about Trump's presence on Twitter, Spicer replied, "In some cases they were entertaining."