It’s tough to launch a new print media product in 2021. The marketplace is saturated, with emerging newsletter-slash-blogging tools enticing established journalists to create new specialized products that peel away readers from their former employers. Social media companies serve as gatekeepers, intentionally or not, extending the reach of products even as they constrain them. For anybody looking to generate attention online by creating something new, it’s an uphill climb.
Even if that person once had more than 80 million followers on Twitter and received more than 74 million votes for president.
Yes, Donald Trump’s blog has failed, succumbing to the pressures of the marketplace. Launched less than a month ago and promising to be a “place to speak freely and safely” — a weird claim, given that it was a site controlled by Trump on which only Trump could speak at all — “From the Desk of Donald Trump” has joined uncountable other blogs (and blogging platforms!) in realizing that the audience simply wasn’t there.
The Washington Post made this obvious, in fact. A few weeks ago, our Drew Harwell and Josh Dawsey reported that the blog’s posts were not only failing to meet an impressive standard compared with Trump’s past social-media activity, they were doing badly compared with, like, a fairly popular church.
The blog, they wrote, “which he and his team have promoted heavily in TV interviews and social media posts, has in the last week been shared to Facebook on average fewer than 2,000 times a day — a staggering drop from last year, when his Facebook page fielded tens of millions of comments, shares and other interactions every week, according to data from the social media analytics firm BuzzSumo and the Facebook-owned content-tracking tool CrowdTangle.”
In keeping with the former president’s general style, Trump’s team promised an earthshaking new platform. Trump would launch a platform that would be “the hottest ticket in social media,” aide Jason Miller promised in March, saying what the team presented would “completely redefine the game” with everybody “waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does.”
When “Desk” launched and it was very quickly pointed out that the team had reinvented the early 2000s weblog, Miller tried to argue that this was simply a placeholder. There would be “additional information coming on that front in the very near future,” Miller said about the promised “hottest ticket.”
After the blog was shuttered, he told CNBC that the blog was “just auxiliary to the broader efforts we have and are working on” that would be discussed soon, though Miller didn’t have “precise awareness of timing.” Presumably it will be announced in two weeks.
Always a salesman, Trump repeatedly tried to spin the blog as a success, an improvement over the social media platforms that had rejected him.
While the posts on the site were basically equivalent to his past tweets (albeit without the character limit), Trump presented them as something special, the way one might — to pick an example at random from the ether — take a mediocre apartment in midtown Manhattan, add some gilt and present it as a luxury product.
“Frankly they’re more elegant than tweeting, as the expression goes,” Trump said in a Newsmax interview last month, referring to the famous expression “This is more elegant than tweeting.” “They’re really much more elegant. And the word is getting out.”
“I like this better than Twitter,” he added. “Actually, they did us a favor.”
Trump wasn’t mad. In fact, he was laughing.
You might be wondering about the utility of spending some 600 words and counting exploring the failure of Trump’s effort to reelevate his own voice in the public conversation. That’s certainly a fair point of criticism. But it is remarkable (in the sense of worthy of remark) for at least two reasons.
The first is that it stands in stark and undeniable contrast to Trump’s insistences about his own power and status. Maybe this was some sort of steppingstone product. But if so, why not keep it up? All the old posts are still on Trump’s website, just repackaged as weird first-person news releases instead of blog posts. Usually, transitionary products exist until the new thing is launched. There certainly is some precedent for Trump predicting an overwhelming victory and then trying to reframe an obvious defeat.
The second reason this stumble is important is that it undeniably raises questions about Trump’s sway. Yes, his posts were picked up in the media and, yes, his commentary is often important to consider given his role and extent power. But that he and his team couldn’t manage to create something that captured his base’s attention reflects in part on the product itself and in part on Trump. This is the former president who wants everyone to assume that his renomination as the Republican Party’s candidate in 2024 is a foregone conclusion — but his various riffs mostly earned shrugs.
Having the blog be a blog allowed people (such as Harwell and Dawsey) to measure the extent to which America was looking elsewhere. In fact, one adviser told Dawsey that Trump “didn’t like that this platform was being mocked and had so few readers.” So Trump’s team shut it down.
As before, they promised a new dominance waiting somewhere just over the horizon. Once the precise awareness of timing is ascertained, you’ll see.