Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE’s unprecedented use of Twitter is giving him a bully pulpit like no other — and that’s something that is already causing trouble for his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, as well as Democrats.
This week, Trump criticized the House GOP's priorities for attempting to gut an independent ethics body before the new Congress was even sworn in. Trump’s tweets, combined with angry calls from constituents, forced the Republican conference into a U-turn only hours later.
On Wednesday, the president-elect implored Republicans to “be careful” in their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Trump said the law was so flawed that it would “fall of its own weight.”
The Wednesday series of tweets also included a jab at “Schumer clowns,” a reference to the new Senate Democratic leader, Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden's Supreme Court commission ends not with a bang but a whimper Hispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act MORE (N.Y.), and his colleagues. By the following morning, Schumer had been upgraded to “head clown.”
But, even so, that insult was part of a broader plea from Trump for “Republicans & Democrats to get together and come up with a healthcare plan that really works.”
Taken together, the tweets embody Trump’s political persona: a tough-talking leader who charts his own course and is not beholden to either party.
“He has already established himself as an independent voice representing the voters,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications. When Trump is tweeting, Berkowitz added, “I don’t think he is thinking, ‘I am doing this to get a leg up on Republicans.’ He already has that leg-up but Twitter is a way of reinforcing that.”
Greg Mueller, a conservative strategist who supported Trump during his campaign, said that there were plenty of issues on which the incoming president and the GOP would be able to march in lockstep.
But he added, “He ran — and I think will govern — as a populist center-right president. There might be some things that Republicans might be split over, and that is a healthy thing for him.”
Trump’s tweets serve several other purposes as well.
It is important to his future political fortunes that he retains his allure to his supporters as someone who is not in hock to vested political interests. His tweets — however imprudent they can seem to critics — underline his image as someone who will soon be in Washington, but not of Washington.
While liberals and media critics mock Trump for the supposed callowness of his tweets, his tactics often show more political acuity than they give him credit for.
Sean Spicer, the Trump transition spokesman who will soon become White House press secretary, said that “in most cases, there’s a deep strategy” to the president-elect’s tweeting habits.
Spicer, who made the remarks in a podcast with David Axelrod, a former senior aide to President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaProgressives say go big and make life hard for GOP Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews Jill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia MORE, also said that "there's a lot of times where there's a method or a decision made behind something” and that people would be wrong to assume that Trump’s tweets are a sign of him going “rogue.”
Another Republican strategist, Ford O’Connell, cited Trump’s criticism of House Republicans on the ethics office as emblematic of his approach.
Trump’s tweeting is so effective “because his own voice comes through,” O’Connell said. “It is a direct line to his supporters, a direct line to the media and a direct line to his party members. When it comes to telling Republicans to slow down” — as was the case on the ethics issue — “they are heeding him with a tweet, versus him having to call up 300 members of Congress.”
The social media habits of the president-elect have, if anything, inflamed his opponents even more. Every Trump tweet meets with dissent and a significant number of snarky responses.
Schumer, targeted by Trump on Wednesday and Thursday in relation to the Affordable Care Act, released a statement in response.
“I’d say to the President-Elect and the Republicans that this is not a time for calling names,” it read. “It’s time for them to step up to the plate if they want to repeal and show us what they’d replace it with.”
But several sources told The Hill that Trump’s use of Twitter was paying dividends politically and that there is no incentive for him to curtail it.
“Of course this is what populists do ... they find a direct communication pipeline to the people,” Berkovitz said.
“Why did Barack Obama show up on late-night television ... and all these other venues? It was because he could bypass the mainstream [political] media and have this direct way of communicating with the people. Trump just has to hit his Twitter account and he is off and running.”