Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, would have you believe that there is another President Trump who goes unrecognized by the world: a Donald Trump who, yes, tweets, but who also is the driving force behind the sanitized statements the White House releases, who advocates for complex policy in partnership with Capitol Hill Republicans and who writes the speeches he occasionally reads at events.
What’s more, Conway seemed to suggest in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Monday morning, that Other Trump, the presidential one, gets short shrift in favor of the guy who’s constantly railing in 140-character sound bites on Twitter.
“This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president …” Conway said during that interview.
“That’s his preferred method of communication with the American people,” said Craig Melvin, the show’s co-host.
“That’s not true,” Conway interjected.
“Well, he hasn’t given an interview in three weeks, so lately it has been his preferred method,” Melvin replied.
Even setting aside that three-week modification, Melvin is correct that the administration has touted Twitter as being more important than media coverage. After Trump won the presidency in November, he and his team were asked if he would stop tweeting so much as president. The answer? No — because the media can’t be trusted.
Shortly after the election, Trump spoke with CBS’s Leslie Stahl, telling her how he planned to moderate his Twitter use once he was sworn in.
“I’m going to do very restrained, if I use it at all, I’m going to do very restrained,” he said. “I find it tremendous. It’s a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It’s — it’s where it’s at.”
By January, his description of his Twitter habit was a bit less enthusiastic.
“Look, I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract,” Trump told Reuters in January. That’s the theme: The media is the enemy, so Trump will tweet to the people directly.
On ABC’s “This Week” in January, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer made that same case.
“With all due respect, I think it freaks the mainstream media out that he has this following of over 45-plus-million people that follow him on social media that he can have a direct conversation with,” Spicer said.
“The fact of the matter is that when he tweets, he gets results,” he added.
Given that Trump and his team have explicitly presented Twitter as his trusted outlet for communicating with his base, perhaps Conway is splitting the hair more finely: His tweets are reluctant, because he doesn’t get the press that he wants and that she thinks he deserves.
But, then, that undercuts her point about how Trump’s tweets shouldn’t be covered. If they’re an important workaround because of an unfair press, then it doesn’t make sense that the White House wouldn’t want the media to present them to the public. If it’s good that his tweets go directly to millions on Twitter, why is it bad if they go to millions more on television?
So what is Conway up to? She recognizes that Trump’s tweets are not actually beneficial.
Poll after poll shows that even Trump voters wish he’d stop using Twitter in the same way. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) made a similar case in a local TV interview last week, saying that Trump has “created problems for himself” with his use of Twitter.
That Trump’s tweets keep getting him into trouble both makes them more newsworthy and serves as a reminder that they should not be treated as simple social-media flotsam now that he’s president. Over the weekend, a Twitter bot launched that reformats his tweets to look like official White House statements, highlighting that, on Twitter or not, these are the words of the president of the United States.
A statement by the President: pic.twitter.com/fJTemIxD2P
— Real Press Sec. (@RealPressSecBot) June 5, 2017
What Conway wants isn’t really for the media to dig into Trump’s efforts in office, especially given that those efforts are fairly modest in scope. (Remember when Trump played down the importance of the 100-day mark of his presidency as it became clear that he wouldn’t have much to tout?) What Conway wants, instead, is for the nation to believe that Trump’s tweets are just light fluff, dinner-party conversation from a president whose rigorous workweeks are meanwhile getting short shrift.
Conway wants us to believe that the Twitter Trump is not the real president. That it’s the big Wizard of Oz surrounded by flames and smoke who’s the real deal, not the guy tapping on his iPhone behind the curtain. That’s a tough sell, because nearly every other indicator suggests that the sober, typical president that the White House tries to put forward is the one that doesn’t really exist meaningfully in substance.