Once again, we are debating Donald Trump and the Twitter phenomenon.
But this time, even some of his own aides and advisers are suggesting he tone it down.
Now I’ve said all along that the president is right that it’s an incredibly valuable tool for him to reach his 31 million followers, amplified by endless media coverage. That was true during the campaign and it remains true today. Just ask him: He said yesterday he wouldn’t have gotten elected without it (as he put it, “ZERO chance of winning WH” if he had “relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes”).
Much of the media has always found it unseemly—now the preferred word is “unpresidential”—that Trump riffs on social media and strafes various targets, including of course the press.
But in recent days, the president sometimes seems to be hurting his own cause. The New York Times said in a front-page story that Trump “may have irretrievably undermined his lawyers’ efforts to persuade the Supreme Court” to uphold his travel ban. The Washington Post said in a front-page story that “the president’s tweets could significantly damage his administration’s effort to restore the ban.”
The stories are referring to such tweets as this one: “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”
That was rather odd since Trump is ultimately in charge of the DOJ. The department could not have proposed a second travel ban, to replace the one blocked by the courts, without the president’s approval. (And yes, he is now calling the temporary travel restrictions a ban.)
One of the voices is George Conway, who recently withdrew from consideration to run Justice’s Civil Division. The lawyer, who is married to Kellyanne Conway, wrote that “these tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help” the solicitor general get five votes in the Supreme Court, “which is actually what matters. Sad.”
Conway stuck by his position in subsequent tweets but made clear that he supports the president.
Trump invoked the ban last weekend in his first tweet after the terror attack at London Bridge:
“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”
He also went off on London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan:
“At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” Khan had actually said the city was increasing its police presence in the coming days and there was no reason for residents to be alarmed about their future safety.
This prompted another wave of criticism that the president was picking a fight with London’s mayor rather than delivering a unifying message after the attack.
Trump contends that the “fake” mainstream media are “working so hard trying to get me not to use Social Media.” Well, no one thinks he’s going to stop. But if his tweets stir things up, or complicate a pending legal case, then that is going to draw widespread coverage. These are, after all, not leaks or chatter, but statements directly from the president.
And the week is only halfway over. When James Comey testifies on the Hill tomorrow—which will be such a huge media event that ABC, CBS and NBC are carrying it live—Trump may not be a bystander.
The Post’s Robert Costa says—on Twitter, of course—that two White House sources tell him Trump “does not plan to put down Twitter on Thursday. May live tweet if he feels the need to respond.”
I wouldn’t bet against that happening.