As House impeachment managers spent days denouncing Donald Trump for inciting the Capitol riot, there was an unaccustomed sound coming from Mar-a-Lago:
The usual barrage of Trump tweets–denouncing the Dems, Mitch McConnell, fake news and other targets–was nonexistent, given the company’s permanent ban on his account. The weapon that Trump himself credits with his rise to the presidency–direct communication with what grew to be 88 million followers–had been dismantled.
And yet some of his advisers believe this has turned out to be a positive development. In fact, according to a person who stays in touch with him, even Trump now sees the benefits of his exile from social media.
The former president is “relieved” that he no longer has his finger on the Twitter trigger, the adviser says. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, Trump has told others, for him not to have to respond to every story and swipe.
In short, the punishment by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which Trump has assailed, is accomplishing what even his closest aides could not for the last four years: reining him in. And that will help shape his effort to remain a preeminent force in the Republican Party.
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To some extent, this may just be turning lemons into lemonade. But the Trump team believes he can make news any time he wants. He has focused on issuing statements, which are carefully crafted with input from advisers, as opposed to the typo-laden missives he would fire off around the clock.
After his Senate acquittal, for instance, Trump released a statement calling the trial “yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” but also conveying his “gratitude to the millions of decent, hardworking, law-abiding, God-and-Country loving citizens.” And, of course, he can always hold a press conference.
Trump’s tweets drove the media agenda because so many news outlets amplified them in real time. When Trump impeachment lawyer Bruce Castro delivered a rambling and disjointed opening statement, some journalists said on Twitter they wished Trump could briefly tweet his frustration. The former president was indeed furious with Castor and directed his lawyers to carefully script their later remarks and make use of video, which his team helped research.
It’s no secret that even some Trump supporters felt he went too far with highly personal attacks against opponents and commentators, and by retweeting unproven allegations and conspiracy theories. Some advisers believe his involuntary separation may reduce the cycle of vitriol in which media and political detractors go online to constantly castigate Trump for his postings.
If Trump was still tweeting, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would undoubtedly feel his wrath. The former president now views his onetime ally with disdain for criticizing his role in the Jan. 6 violence, even though he hasn’t gone as far as McConnell, who accused Trump of dereliction of duty. McCarthy’s recent fence-mending visit to Mar-a-Lago did little to ease the tension.
Trump believes McCarthy mounted a personal attack against him by telling fellow Republicans of their heated phone call during the Capitol insurrection. In that call, Trump is reported to have told the congressman: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election theft than you are.”
That became a flashpoint in the trial when Democrats pushed to hear testimony from Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who recounted the conversation after speaking with McCarthy. But the managers settled for entering her statement in the record.
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Trump and McCarthy may be on a collision course. The former president plans to campaign for primary challengers to those lawmakers who opposed him on impeachment, including Liz Cheney. In the view of Trump’s inner circle, McCarthy will have no choice but to support his Republican incumbents. If the Trump-backed House contenders prevail–and it’s hardly a lock that they would win in the general election–they would feel no obligation to back McCarthy as their leader.
All this would play out on the Twitter battlefield if Trump still had his account. It would be ironic if that forces him to pick his spots and fashion a more focused message.