Bush’s Brain started microblogging his thoughts on Twitter last week and some people already think he’s pretty adorable. Can one of the most divisive men in America actually change his image—140 characters at a time?
A frisson of breathless excitement rippled through the Twitter community last week as a mysterious new member made his debut. Was it really him? Or was it just a joke, like Fake Steve Jobs and the various Betty Drapers? As skeptical Tweeters raised an eyebrow, “KarlRove” cheerfully micro-blogged away, updating the world on his thoughts in 140-character increments. Two days later, the mystery was cracked by veteran Democratic political consultant (and Twitter mainstay) Joe Trippi who demanded of the upstart tweeter: “At Gridiron Dinner you handed out a bunch of these. What did you hand out?” Replied KarlRove: “Lighters!” Trippi confirmed that it was indeed lighters. It was official: Bush’s Brain had joined the Twitterati.
“No amount of lipstick on that pig is ever going redeem Rove in the eyes of liberals and progressives, no matter how "down" he is with what "the kids" are doing on "the webs" and "the Facebook.’”
With gusto. Rove took to the platform like a pro, dropping links to his website, op-eds and TV clips, replying to random people who messaged him (the Twitter equivalent of a namedrop) and “following back” everyone who followed his Twitter feed (the Twitter version of a suckup). He thanked everyone for welcoming him. He called Fox News’ Trace Gallagher a “ new media ninja.” He used exclamation points!! It was actually sort of…cute.
Wait a second. Karl Rove, cute? There was nothing cute about eight long Bush years. And yet, I felt an unmistakable stab of jealousy when a Tweet from a friend came through triumphantly announcing that Karl Rove had started followed him. I made a decision: I followed Rove. The next day, he followed me back…and I liked it.
What was going on here? Yes, there was the glamour of having a famous person on Twitter, joining Shaq, Lance Armstrong, and Britney Spears;yes, it was exciting to think that he’d chosen me, even if it was along with DrYogi and Atlas The Dog; yes, there was the thrill of the bad boy. But this wasn’t the same bad boy I’d known the past eight years—away from the White House and in 140 characters, this Karl Rove was different. On Twitter he was excitable and inclusive and fun. Humble (“Thanks everyone for supporting me on Twitter. Any tips are greatly appreciated”) yet still forceful (“Reid's actions are erratic, arbitrary, and unconstitutional”). Most of all he was—gasp!— transparent. This wasn’t the old Karl Rove; this was Karl Rove 2.0.
Karl Rove 2.0—a new spin on the old version, just in time for the Obama administration and Change We Can Believe In. And it’s working—in a week, he’s amassed almost 4,000 followers—impressive numbers for Twitter (Barack Obama is the most-followed Twitterer, with 165,414; Shaq has 29,762; Trippi has 4,059; the average journalist in the reality-based community has somewhere around two thousand. Well done, Howie Kurtz!).
Moreover, while there are certainly more than a few conservative voices on Twitter, it is much more popular in blue states. And it’s only been a week. If Karl Rove can win over a blue-state Twitterati like me, then who’s to say where the reinvention will stop? Could Twitter be the secret to burnishing his Bush-tarnished brand? Consider who is on Twitter: Early adopters, people who publish across a number of platforms, more and more journalists; virtually every blogger. As go the Twitterati, so goes the nation. (Who’s that top Twitterer again? Oh, right.)
“Karl Rove represents that next wave of people coming to Twitter,” says Trippi, who told me he thinks it’s no accident that Rove is catching on now—and that Rove’s presence is proof that Twitter is about to blow up. “He’s someone who knows how to communicate—and how to drive communication through multipliers like Twitter. He’s shown that through two presidential elections.”
Social media analyst Alisa Leonard Hansen invokes a little McLuhan, noting that Rove’s very use of Twitter gives him a boost: “It does seem as if that just by virtue of being on Twitter it says something positive about you—like hey, maybe he's more honest, accessible, grounded than we thought? He Twitters!” (One female social media type actually described Rove to me as “adorable.”)
Veteran Web 1.0 blogger and online expert Jason Kottke isn’t convinced. “No amount of lipstick on that pig is ever going redeem Rove in the eyes of liberals and progressives, no matter how "down" he is with what "the kids" are doing on "the webs" and "the Facebook.’” Fellow web pioneer Noah Brier isn’t even sure the Rove brand needs help: “Does Karl Rove really have a tarnished brand? I mean I guess it depends on who you're talking to. I think for a lot of people on the left he's seen as an evil genius—genius being an important word—and for people on the right he's the dude who got Bush elected.”
So what is he doing there? It can’t just be to solicit farewell emails to George W. Bush (send to firstname.lastname@example.org by 6:00 PM ET on January 19th) or share travel tips (he just got back from Nigeria). Could it be to goose his web traffic? (“Sign up at Rove.com for the latest news!”) Surely a hit on Fox is still good for that, even in this post-Bush era. Perhaps, as Hansen suggests, “he may just really like Twittering and seeing his Twick Size grow?” (“Twick Size” is the latest metric of Twitter influence– one’s twick becomes swollen with more activity. Joe Trippi is at 10 inches; Rove is just at 3 inches. That’s gotta sting. )
Or maybe it’s all much simpler than that. Maybe Karl Rove is on Twitter because he just likes being followed. No doubt he got sort of used to it after two elections; this last one’s gotta sting, too. But here on Twitter, there’s a new community to take by storm, with new friends to be made—and a twicksize that has nowhere to go but up. Now that’s a change even Karl Rove can believe in.
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Rachel Sklar is the former Media Editor for the Huffington Post and the author of A Stroke of Luck: Life, Crisis and Rebirth of a Stroke Survivor. She is currently working on Jew-ish, a humorous book about cultural identity. In the meantime, she works with media consulting firm Abrams Research, recently launched online micro-giving site Charitini, and Twitters up a storm. Follow her here.