Trolling Trump is a favorite pastime of 2020 Democratic hopefuls
Donald Trump’s Twitter game — lashing out at real and imagined enemies, live-tweeting cable news, airing personal grievances — helped propel him to victory in November and has kept him driving news cycles ever since. Now in Washington, a city with a long history of public relations parlor games, the president’s Twitter habit has ushered in a new one: Trump-trolling.
Democratic lawmakers with 2020 presidential ambitions, and even some Republicans, have been sharpening their Twitter snark in recent months — and as a result, bolstering their national profiles.
“The only possible objective it serves is if you want to run for higher office, and then it’s helpful to have this online world talking about you,” said a communications director to a Democrat in Congress. “Twitter people are a specific kind of people, often journalists and hyper-partisans.”
In other words, a relatively small number of people, but ones who could potentially have a real effect on the political conversation.
“Chris Murphy looks — and tweets — like a man running for president,” Politico declared of the Connecticut senator with more than 245,000 followers. “Ted Lieu is out-tweeting Trump, and it’s making him a political star,” the Washington Post wrote of the California representative with 244,500 followers. And CNN published a story titled, “Elizabeth Warren gives Trump a dose of his own medicine on Twitter”; she has 3.85 million followers.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 12, 2017
But some Democrats remain wary of entering the fray. “I give my boss probably four or five ideas for good-ass burns a week, and he usually approves only one,” said one Democratic staffer. “He [understands] Twitter, but he just hates lobbing bombs.”
Some politicians write their own tweets, others have communication shops craft Trump snipes. It’s hard to know which ones are the real deal because every press secretary claims their politician is the real tweeter in order to give the social media profile the glow of authenticity.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 23, 2017
But political spinners say the Democratic politicians aren’t copying Trump’s provocative and sometimes reckless Twitter style — they’re copying Hillary Clinton’s. While many Clinton campaign senior officials privately admit they were rarely successful in going viral, a droll troll from @HillaryClinton became the most retweeted tweet of the entire presidential race.
Delete your account. https://t.co/Oa92sncRQY
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 9, 2016
“On the day of the ‘Delete Your Account’ tweet, trolling a Trump tweet was the farthest thing from our minds, as we were rolling out President Obama’s endorsement of Hillary,” recalled Alex Wall, Clinton’s social media director. Wall, who has since launched his own communications firm called Sweet Spot Strategies, says the tweet broke through because they responded to Trump quickly with something that “cut right to the heart of the visceral exasperation that so many Americans feel when they see Trump’s tweets.”
Though the phrase “Delete your account” is a common Twitter meme, Wall said it was “a no-nonsense retort that is true to Hillary’s voice.”
Warren is the Trump-trolling queen. The Massachusetts senator began doing it before Clinton did, and then stepped it up throughout the campaign with tweetstorms calling Trump “Weak!,” “Lame,” a “Loser,” and a “bully” who stays up late “[t]hinking of new & interesting ways to call women fat or ugly or sluts.”
Is this what keeps you up at night, @realDonaldTrump? Thinking of new & interesting ways to call women fat or ugly or sluts?
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) September 30, 2016
“Tweetstorms and Facebook posts cause millions of people to tune in — at one point, about 46 million people were following these exchanges,” Warren wrote in her new book, “This Fight Is Our Fight.” “Trump had figured out early on that every over-the-top tweet became a news story. Now there was a fresh story line: Someone had found a way to get under Donald Trump’s skin and fight back.”
Murphy, who’s reportedly considering a presidential bid in 2020, regularly sends angry tweets dubbing Trump’s agenda “an intellectual and moral dumpster fire.” Murphy recently explained to Politico that he is “typing out legitimate, real, emotional frustration” and it’s something he thinks “as a general matter more Democrats should do.”
Warren and Murphy also have company across the aisle. When Trump attacked members of the conservative Freedom Caucus for rejecting his health care reform plan in March, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky responded:
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 30, 2017
Massie’s missives sometimes include the hashtag #sassywithmassie.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska got in the game during the GOP presidential primary with references to Trump’s short fingers, but he has since dialed down his trolling.
Ambitious Democrats like Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, along with Reps. Adam Schiff and Ted Lieu of California, have also joined the digital pile-on. Even the Democratic staffers on the House Ways and Means Committee maintain a gif-heavy feed that other Democratic staffers pass around — including this classic:
— Ways and Means Dems (@WaysMeansCmte) March 24, 2017