- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2017

The first month of the Twitter Presidency has shown President Trump has no inclination to rein in the freewheeling style that got him elected — while also making him one of the most unpopular candidates ever to reach the White House.

The president is averaging six tweets a day — and four exclamation points daily, perhaps most illustrative of his emphatic and combative style.

Mr. Trump has dedicated no fewer than 19 tweets to attacking “Fake News,” including 10 blasts against The New York Times and another five aimed at CNN, his two favorite targets from the campaign.

And he’s also gone after some of his favorite targets in the Washington establishment, bashing Sen. John McCain (twice), Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, whose checkered version of his time in the military during the Vietnam War aroused Mr. Trump’s anger.

“On net, the downsides seem greater than the upsides,” said Barry C. Burden, a political scientist and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For a country that demands ever greater access to its top leader, Twitter provides a 21st century window into what’s on this president’s mind. It amounts to unparalleled transparency, far beyond the access any other president has ever given to his personal thoughts.

But when reduced to 140 characters, that picture isn’t always pretty.

In one tweet Mr. Trump blasted the “so-called judge” who blocked his extreme vetting policy, and used his account to settle personal scores. He used another series of tweets to mock former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his “bad job” in office and “even worse” performance taking over the “Apprentice” program.

The president has also effused over some of his favorites: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Fox News, which the president praised for giving him laudatory coverage.

Mr. Burden said the president’s account gives “immediate, unfiltered insight into his thinking,” and it even appears as though his tweeting has produced results, such as when he chided House Republicans for a planned change in their ethics rules. They quickly scrapped the proposal after his spanking.

Trump sees social media as a way to circumvent all of the intermediaries between him and the public,” Mr. Burden said.

But the president’s posts can also be “ambiguous, confusing and divisive,” and can frequently derail the message the GOP would rather be going for, the professor said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that for reporters last week.

“I’ve been pretty candid with him and with all of you that I’m not a great fan of daily tweets,” the Kentucky Republican said, evaluating Mr. Trump’s early days in office.

Mr. McConnell said the twittering aside, the president has been notching some wins, installing a conservative Cabinet and rolling back Obama-era rules.

“As I look at what we might have expected from a President Mitt Romney or a President Marco Rubio or a President Jeb Bush at the beginning of their tenures in office, I can’t see much difference between what President Trump is doing and what they would have done,” Mr. McConnell said. “I like what he’s doing. I’ve not been a fan of the extra discussion that he likes to engage in, but we’re going to soldier on. We like his positions, and we’re going to pursue them as vigorously as we can.”

Americans seem to have gotten enough of Trump tweets during the campaign, with an overwhelming majority telling various polls they wanted to see the president hang up his keyboard once he took office.

But Mr. Burden said they’re paying attention anyway.

“It is ironic that Twitter could be a more effective platform for Trump if he was more disciplined about how he used it. But it is the unconventional approach that makes people pay attention to his tweets,” the professor said.

It’s difficult to say when the era of Twitter politics came of age. But one of the most surreal moments came almost exactly a year ago, when Mr. Trump was on the campaign trail in South Carolina defending his border wall, and Pope Francis, flying back from a trip to Mexico, called the wall “not Christian.”

Mr. Trump tweeted a response, pointing to an even longer reply on Facebook, predicting an impending Islamic State attack against the Vatican and insisting the pope would have “wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.” For good measure, Mr. Trump called the pope’s words “disgraceful.”

Back then Mr. Trump was tweeting to an audience of about 6.5 million people. By Election Day that had grown to 13 million.

He began Inauguration Day with 20.5 million followers, and gained another 500,000 that day. He’s steadily grown in the month since, reaching 25.3 million as of Monday.

Still, he has a ways to go to catch former President Barack Obama, whose @BarackObama feed counts 84.8 million followers, and has itself grown more than 4 million since the day he stepped down from office.


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