Trump tapped out 52 tweets in just 34 hours, marking his second-most prolific two-day stretch since becoming president — surpassed only by a 53-message flurry last fall focused largely on the arrival of Hurricane Florence.
Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in the intimate fireside chat through his mastery of radio, and John F. Kennedy skillfully manipulated the new medium of television, Trump has redefined presidential communication with his use of Twitter. The 45th president has deployed the social media platform to fire Cabinet members, belittle his rivals, rally his base, befuddle world leaders and entertain, or infuriate, the masses.
But what impact did his outburst last weekend really have? If a president hunkers down in the White House to tweet alone, how much does it matter?
The missives formed the unofficial soundtrack for official Washington on a chilly but sunny weekend, as cellphones buzzed and skittered with every fresh thought or grievance. They also provided a case study of the ramifications of Trump’s eager Twitter finger — moving global markets and outraging politicians for days to come, or slipping forgotten into the ether until the next one.
A team of Washington Post reporters — Ashley Parker, Heather Long, Sarah Ellison, Tony Romm and Rachael Bade — examined the impact of the president’s tweets on five key areas on which he weighed in last weekend.
Trump played media critic with unsolicited advice for Fox News, and conspirator in chief with retweets of white nationalists. He had nothing at all to say about the slaughter of 50 Muslims in New Zealand, but found time to proclaim that Fox should reinstate an anchor who questioning the patriotism of a Muslim congresswoman.
“When he’s sending 34 tweets on a Sunday afternoon, he’s saying, ‘Which is the thing that can get everyone talking about me?’” said Nick Bilton, author of “Hatching Twitter,” an account of the site’s early years. “It’s almost like a kid who is screaming for a lollipop and an ice pop and a caramel and a chocolate, and is eventually going to get one of them, and it’s like, ‘Which is the thing that’s going to work?’ ”
While Trump was pecking out angry nuggets, press secretary Sarah Sanders spent her weekend on vacation in West Virginia, and chief of staff Mick Mulvaney did the same in Las Vegas. White House officials made no real effort to intervene or rein Trump in, according to people familiar with how the president spent his days.
One Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House said the staff had largely “given up” on trying to control their boss.
When asked by the Daily Beast Sunday night whether Trump’s tweets and retweets “speak for themselves,” Sanders answered, simply, “Yes.”
'I just want it open!'
Clad in safety goggles and a gray suit, GM chief executive Mary Barra walked into the Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan Friday and announced an electric vehicle that was slated to be built abroad was instead coming to Michigan, along with 400 new jobs.
It had been six days since GM was the target of a lashing on Twitter and five days since Barra got an angry phone call, as a livid Trump complained about the loss of thousands of jobs at factory in Lordstown, Ohio, earlier this month.
Friday’s news conference was put together hastily in the hope of mollifying Trump, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly. In fact, the Michigan investment had long been in the works.
“This is something that’s been planned for a while,” Barra said in an interview on Fox Business, quickly adding, “General Motors and the president are very aligned. We want to create good-paying jobs.”
Trump’s corporate strong-arming has had mixed success. When Foxconn was about to abandon plans to open a facility in Wisconsin, Trump called the company, and suddenly the investment was back on, if still significantly smaller than once promised. Elsewhere, like Carrier in Indiana, large firms have gone ahead with layoffs despite pushback from Trump.
GM appears to be giving Trump the equivalent of a vegetarian meal when he asked for his preferred well-done steak with ketchup. The announcement covered a $300 million investment at the Orion plant in the Detroit suburbs, but the company didn’t budge on Lordstown.
“I am not happy that it is closed when everything else in our Country is BOOMING,” Trump tweeted after talking to Barra about Lordstown. “I asked her to sell it or do something quickly. She blamed the UAW Union — I don’t care, I just want it open!”
GM says now is the time to transition the company into a future of electric and self-driving cars, something Trump has been lukewarm about. Last year the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era rules that forced the auto industry to become more fuel efficient.
The company said Friday it would make a new electric vehicle at the Orion Assembly Plant as part of $1.8 billion in new investment in the United States in the coming years, about $1.4 billion of which had not been previously announced.
But Trump never tweeted about it.
The president praised Ford in a tweet Wednesday after it announced a nearly $1 billion investment in Michigan. For GM, there was only silence.
'Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro'
Trump is obsessed with Fox News. He watches the conservative-leaning networkevery day, often with running commentary on Twitter. He talks with Rupert Murdoch, whose family controls the company, about once a week or more.
And he values his relationships with the Trump-friendly anchors there, including Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and — as he made clear at 9:18 a.m. on Sunday — the suspended celebrity host known as Judge Jeanine.
“Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro,” he exhorted. “The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country. They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well. Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor. Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country.”
Pirro had been forced to miss her regular show the night before after she had suggested that the Muslim headscarf worn by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was, by definition, anti-American. Fox News placed her on suspension, which she and Trump discussed, according to a person briefed on their conversations.
Pirro is a longtime friend dating back to her days as a media-savvy district attorney in Westchester County. She and her then-husband ran in the same social circle as then-real estate developer Donald Trump.
The connections between Trump and Fox are symbiotic. Bill Shine, until recently his deputy chief of staff in charge of communications, is a former Fox News executive who got his job in part because Hannity advocated for him. Kimberly Guilfoyle, also a former Fox host, is dating the president’s son Don Jr. Both were known inside the building as belonging to the Trump wing of support inside Fox, unlike more establishment Republican figures such as Dana Perino and Brit Hume.
Four hours to the minute after his Pirro jeremiad, Trump was angry at Fox again — this time at a pair of little-known weekend anchors who hosted segments he didn’t like.
“Were @FoxNews weekend anchors, @ArthelNeville and @LelandVittert, trained by CNN prior to their ratings collapse?” Trump fumed.
But the real power at the network resides with the opinion hosts — Hannity’s show is the highest-rated on the network, and even Pirro’s garners about 2 million viewers each Saturday. They can be divisive inside Fox. There was one view, voiced by a high-level insider, that Pirro is “a bit of an embarrassment,” given her outspoken comments.
But not that embarrassing, apparently. According to one person familiar with the network’s plans, Pirro is scheduled to return to her show on March 30.
'They are losers, we are winners!'
On 8chan, an anonymous message board infamous for allowing anyone to post whatever they want, followers of the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory took sudden notice Sunday. The president of the United States had just retweeted one of their own.
“LOOKEY LOOKEY,” wrote one of the site’s anonymous users, after seeing Trump’s amplification of a Twitter user named VBNationalist.
“Look what POTUS retweeted and what’s in the upper left corner,” noted another user, referring to a profile photo on the account that Trump shared, which contained the letter “Q” wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.
Still another 8chan user added: “Best POTUS EVER!”
To the casual observer, Trump’s retweet seemed aimed only in the defense of Pirro, sharing a message that “we have to fight back. They have not let up on President Trump, nor his supporters since they lost. They are losers, we are winners!”
In the end, though, Trump’s mere act of retweeting started a chain of events that would amplify one of the Web’s most pernicious conspiracy theories — much to its followers’ delight.
To researchers, the problem wasn’t so much what VBNationalist said, but what the user’s profile contained — a photo and a series of hashtags showing support for QAnon. The baseless conspiracy theory rests on the idea that an anonymous government official, or “Q,” is sharing messages with followers about a secret plot to undermine Trump. Adherents to QAnon parse updates, or “crumbs,” for hidden meanings — especially for signs that Trump knows and supports the cause. And followers see the number 17, the numerical placement of Q in the alphabet, as a special symbol in its own right.
So Trump’s decision to retweet a user whose profile clearly referenced QAnon — on March 17, no less — sparked great interest in the darkest depths of the Web, including on 8chan. Over that same weekend, as Trump tweeted, 8chan had found itself in the headlines for a different reason: Its users were uploading videos of the New Zealand massacre and scheming over ways to facilitate its spread online.
It is unclear how the tweet first surfaced on Trump’s radar. But Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who studies social media, political memes and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, said Trump is highly susceptible.
“You can sneak a lot past his gatekeepers … simply by being loyal to him and expressing fidelity,” she said. “That opens him up then to these kinds of influence campaigns.”
On Sunday, VBNationalist rejoiced at the president’s attention.
“What a glorious day for #WWG1WGA #Q,” the account tweeted a day later, using a hashtags referring to a popular QAnon phrase — “where we go one, we go all.”
In a screenshot posted by VBNationalist that afternoon, the user appeared to have roughly 8,000 users. By Friday, it had nearly doubled.
'Last in his class'
Trump traveled to Lima, Ohio, Wednesday to peddle his vision of economic success. But first, the president had something he wanted to clear up.
Early into his speech at a manufacturing plant that produces military tanks, the president paused to turn his attention to McCain, the former GOP presidential nominee and war hero who died of brain cancer last year. “I have to be honest: I’ve never liked him much,” Trump said.
“I wasn’t a fan of John McCain . . . not my kind of guy,” he concluded.
Trump’s unprompted riff was simply a continuation of an attack on the late Arizona senator that began during his weekend tweetstorm.
Angered by a news report highlighting McCain’s role in providing a copy of an intelligence dossier to the FBI about Trump’s possible ties to Russia — a dossier Trump incorrectly blames for launching special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe — the president lashed out with tweets. He called the dossier “a very dark stain” against McCain, and falsely claimed he was “last in his class” at the U.S. Naval Academy. (McCain graduated fifth from the bottom — a fact that the self-deprecating senator often noted).
That kicked off a week-long news cycle focused on the feud, with Trump getting asked about it while sitting next to the president of Brazil on Tuesday, venting his frustrations in front of the military crowd in Ohio on Wednesday, and ending the week by reiterating he was “not a fan” of McCain in an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo on Friday.
It also prompted rare rebukes of the president from some Republican lawmakers. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) called Trump’s comments “deplorable,” while Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) wrote on Twitter, “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain.”
McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, said on ABC’s “The View,” that defending her dad against Trump is “extremely emotionally exhausting” but added that in attacking someone who is dead, the president had hit a “new bizarre low.”
Yet Trump’s rants against McCain are unlikely to hurt him politically with those in his base who viewed the senator with distrust. Nor are they likely to undermine the legacy of McCain, a Navy prisoner of war during the Vietnam War who rose to become his party’s nominee for president in 2008.
“He’ll be fine,” said Mark Salter, a former longtime aide to McCain. “McCain died a much admired man, and he’ll be remembered a much admired man because he earned it.”
'There should be no Mueller Report'
One of Trump’s biggest targets during his weekend tweetstorm was one of his favorites — the Russia investigation overseen by Mueller, who transmitted his final report to the Justice Department on Friday.
The wave of tweets and retweets arguably gave House Democrats more ammunition for their probe into whether Trump obstructed justice and has abused his power, Democrats said. Yet many responded with a shrug.
For weeks, the House Judiciary Committee has been slowly building a case to argue that Trump has undermined vital democratic institutions — including by calling the motives of law enforcement and the Justice Department into question as well as attacking the credibility of the media.
The special counsel, Trump wrote in one message retweeted Saturday, “should never have been appointed and there should be no Mueller Report. This was an illegal & conflicted investigation in search of a crime. Russian Collusion was nothing more than an excuse by the Democrats for losing an Election that they thought they were going to win.”
Trump’s tweets were more of the same to some Democrats, who feel they have more important priorities now that the battle to release the report has begun.
Rather than his tweets, for example, some Democrats were more interested last weekend in a CNN report that the White House wanted to review the Mueller report before it became public to claim executive privilege.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said little about Trump’s weekend tweets, focusing on the CNN report instead.
“There is no provision in the regulations for White House review,” Nadler tweeted, “and it would be unacceptable for President Trump — the subject, if not the target of the Special Counsel’s work — to edit the report before it goes public.”
'MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!'
If Trump’s goal was to inject himself into the public debate last weekend, he unquestionably succeeded. One of the world’s largest corporations scrambled to appease him, Pirro will return to work, senators responded to his attacks and the fringe Internet swooned.
But the sheer volume of his tweets — roughly one-and-a-half per hour, once he logged on and starting typing — was arguably almost as notable as the content.
Bilton, the Twitter author, said that for all the hype that surrounds Trump’s tweets, they are more often ephemera rather than pronouncements with abiding consequences.
“We could have had this conversation last week about a different set of tweets that we can’t even remember today,” he said. “I don’t remember what the scandal was three days ago; I truly do not remember what the scandal was a month ago; and if you tasked me to name one a year ago, it would take me 15 minutes to remember. And what that says is the tweets are just noise and what they’re doing is making the two sides louder and more unintelligible.”
Before Trump signed off Sunday night, he sent a final one-sentence tweet — an all-caps version of his 2016 rallying cry: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
With about 48,000 retweets a week later, it was the most frequently shared message of all.
Heather Long, Sarah Ellison, Tony Romm and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.