This week is Trump Week at The Intersect: a five-day examination of Donald Trump’s consistently fascinating and occasionally unsettling Internet presence. From the murky depths of 4chan to the viral heights of YouTube, we’ll be looking at the people who have made Trump not only a political phenomenon but also a digital one. Keep up with the series here.
In his parting remarks to Cleveland on Friday morning, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump invited his social media manager to the stage. He introduced Dan Scavino as a “A Facebook, Twitter junkie,” who knows the platforms like nobody else. Scavino greeted his boss as “President Trump.”
“Twitter last night, exploded. Facebook exploded. Instagram exploded,” he told a crowd of Trump’s supporters. By the end of the convention, Trump’s Facebook account had gained close to 500,000 followers. And, he said, “Mr. Trump hit 10 million followers on Twitter. 10 million.”
That reach, Scavino proudly said, allows the campaign to bypass the traditional media if desired. “If things aren’t necessarily working out with CNN,” Scavino said, “We put it on his platforms and get more views.”
The first time many people had even heard of Scavino was earlier this month, when the Trump campaign’s social-media director was explaining how an image of Hillary Clinton with a pile of money and a six-pointed star ended up getting tweeted from Donald Trump’s account. The image drew immediate comparisons to the Star of David and prompted House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to say that “anti-Semitic images” have “no place in a presidential campaign.” The image was created by a right-wing meme-maker, who had previously mocked Muslims and black Democrats.
“The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site. It was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear,” Scavino said after the tweet, which was deleted, prompted a frenzy of articles about Trump’s Twitter habits — past and present — and the intended message of that particular graphic.
“The sheriff’s badge — which is available under Microsoft’s ‘shapes’ — fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary and that is why I selected it,” Scavino said of the whole image in a Facebook post. He said he removed the image from Trump’s account because “I would never offend anyone.”
The Trump account later retweeted a similar image, with the star changed into a circle.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2016
On Twitter, Scavino was less diplomatic about the coverage of the whole thing:
For the MSM to suggest that I am antisemite is AWFUL. I proudly celebrate holidays w/ my wife's amazing Jewish family for the past 16 years.
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) July 5, 2016
Scavino might be a new name to the general public, but Trump first noticed Scavino decades ago, when he was a teenage caddie at a golf club that Trump visited with an eye for buying it.
“I’ll never forget the day his limo first pulled up. I was star-struck. I remember his first gratuity. It was two bills — two hundred-dollar bills. I said, ‘I am never spending this money.’ I still have both bills,” Scavino told Westchester magazine about the 1990 day. Later, Trump told the college student, “You are going to work for me one day.”
Scavino later became the general manager of that golf course after Trump bought it and renamed it after himself.
It’s an odd origin story for a social-media manager, but Trump has an odd way of using social media.
Trump’s feed churns through personal observations, insults, repetitions of praise for Trump and bad memes like he’s getting paid on volume. Those retweets and memes are indiscriminately sourced, the observations written — or directly dictated to his staff — by Trump himself.
“He doesn’t run anything by me,” Scavino told CNN in April. “We’re a different campaign.”
The controversial things that have made it into Trump’s feed include a retweet of a user whose name includes the phrase “White Genocide”:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 22, 2016
And a mean image about Ted Cruz’s wife:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
“I never worry about it. What’s great about Mr. Trump on his Twitter feed is he enjoys reading the feedback from people,” Scavino told The Washington Post in an interview with Ben Terris in March. “But that doesn’t mean he’s reading the profiles of all the people that tweet at him. If he sees a comment that says great job, perhaps he’ll retweet it. He’s engaging in a way that no one else does.”
According to Scavino, he feeds ideas to Trump for their social strategy, but Trump himself is in charge. “He asks us our thoughts and listens to everybody, anybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re the campaign manager or a lower-level staffer,” he told Terris. “He wants to know what people think of his speeches, and he listens. So he reads everything we give him, and we keep bringing him and feeding him. And he sees a lot, sometimes he brings stuff to us we haven’t seen.”
Scavino’s origin story has plenty of inexperience in politics and in social-media management, but he has something Trump values: loyalty.
CNN asked Scavino in April whether Trump could ever go too far for him: “Is there anything he could say or do that would lead you to abandon him?”
Scavino’s response? “No.”
He’s also ready to fight for his boss when he’s criticized for the content of his tweets, policies or remarks. “I take it personal sometimes,” Scavino said to CNN. “He doesn’t deserve a lot of this crap that’s being said about him. … It fires me up. It pisses me off, it really does, because I care about the man, and I care about his family.”
Whatever the strategy — or lack thereof — the fact remains that Trump’s Twitter account is more successful than his rivals’ at engagement, according to a Pew analysis of Clinton’s, Trump’s and Sanders’s online presences:
In every measurable category of user attention — Facebook shares, comments, and reactions, as well as Twitter retweets — the public responded to Donald Trump’s social media updates more frequently on average than to either of the other candidates’ posts. Trump’s posts on Twitter, for example, were retweeted almost 6,000 times on average compared with just over 1,500 for Clinton and almost 2,500 for Sanders.
Ben Terris contributed to this article, which has been updated since its initial publication to include Scavino’s Friday remarks.