Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has used Twitter to great effect throughout the 2016 Republican primary, quickly deleted a Tuesday night retweet that featured the face of rival Jeb Bush next to a swastika.
Trump’s campaign said Wednesday morning that the candidate initially didn’t realize the message contained a Nazi symbol, which is actually plausible, since the offensive image is part of a collage and could have been momentarily missed among the cacti and sombrero — not to mention the fact that part of the appeal of Trump's feed is the flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants feel to it.
Naturally, the Bush campaign pounced, with spokeswoman Kristy Campbell suggesting on Twitter that Trump would try to duck responsibility by blaming an intern.
Trump tweets swastika as part of latest attack on Jeb. T-minus 8 hours until another "young intern" is fired https://t.co/01Df5gbqZB
— Kristy Campbell (@kristymcampbell) November 4, 2015
Campbell's prediction is also plausible. Trump did blame an intern for a July tweet depicting Nazi soldiers and did the same last month when his account retweeted a message attributing Ben Carson's lead in Iowa to the cognitive effects of "too much #Monsanto in the #corn."
But Bush should tread warily. Trump is hardly alone among White House contenders in the digital gaffe department. Jeb's(!) turn
could will be coming.
In July, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton tweeted a photo that showed her shaking hands with a young man at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Visible on his extended right forearm was a single-word tattoo: “white.” The tweet was promptly deleted.
— Michael Curry (@mcurryfelidae07) July 7, 2015
A couple weeks earlier, Clinton’s top competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), left a rather important word out of a tweet about immigration. “We must shirk the historic role of the US as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution,” he wrote. Sanders removed the tweet and, rather than insert the word “not,” went with a simpler replacement minutes later: “America has always been a haven for the oppressed.”
And last year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, commemorated the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy with a tweet about “bongs” that he attributed to autocorrect.
Christie changed the message to read, “We need to work together on things that have gone wrong and celebrate those that have gone right.” He followed up with what could be viewed as a warning to others.
Glad to provide some of you a little unintentional humor this morning. Proving none of us are able to escape the dangers of autocorrect!
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 29, 2014
One bit of relief for the candidates: Twitter effectively killed the Sunlight Foundation's Politwoops project, which tracked politicians' deleted tweets, by yanking access to its API in June. (Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey recently hinted that the tech giant may reverse course.)
So, if you delete a tweet fast enough, maybe no one will notice? (Editor's note: You can never delete it fast enough.)
More likely, the occasional embarrassing screwup will be the price of campaigning in the age of social media. The clear political calculus is that it's a price worth paying — the candidates aren't closing their accounts, after all — but it's an added landmine for politicians who used to worry only about verbal slips on the stump.