How Long Can Donald Trump’s Twitter Troll Ringmaster Hold On?
Before there was the controversy over a tweet involving the Star of David, Hillary Clinton, and a pile of money, there were other screw-ups.
Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social media chief, once shared a video he claimed was of Syrian refugees rallying in support of ISIS in the streets of Germany. The video was a hoax, footage of a 2012 protest that had been repurposed by the fringe right as anti-refugee propaganda.
He criticized Barack Obama for giving a televised address on the first night of Hanukkah. He suggested, instead, that the president should have done so on the previous Friday or Saturday night, during Shabbat, when a considerable portion of Jewish people forgo television and other technology.
And then he posted another video, one that implied, with no discernible evidence, that Ted Cruz had an affair with his former staffer Amanda Carpenter, a married mother of two who was forced to go out and declare, on CNN, where she now works, that she has always been faithful to her husband.
All of this was done on Twitter, one of the mediums that Dan Scavino, as director of social media for a major presidential campaign, is supposed to have mastered. But like so many aspects of Donald Trump’s operation, Scavino’s digital outreach is not just unorthodox but a veritable forest of dumpsters doused with gasoline and lit by a match. Scavino, who did not return a phone call, text message, or email requesting an interview, is about as skilled a director of social media as Corey Lewandowski would be a masseur.
A registered independent, Scavino couldn’t even vote for his boss in the New York primary.
But to Trump, none of this matters much.
Scavino has a large, square head and close-cropped hair. His nose is permanently scrunched up, like he’s smelling something awful, and his lips are permanently pressed together, like he’s tasting something sour. He is everything Trump, the de facto Republican nominee, looks for in an employee: confident despite little reason to be; bright enough to take orders but not enough to question them; frankly just lucky to be there; and above all—mostly due to that last thing—loyal.
“Is there anything he could say or do that would lead you to abandon him?” Scavino was asked in April.
For the briefest moment, he looked off into space—almost a suggestion of introspection, though he never quite got there.
“No,” he said.
He shook his head and he said it again.
On Saturday, a graphic was sent from Trump’s personal Twitter [email protected] depicted Hillary Clinton, in black and white, before a pile of money. “History Made,” it read. And, within the confines of a red Star of David, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
Trump added his own commentary. “Crooked Hillary - - Makes History!”
The graphic was apparently put together by a Twitter user who also distributed an image of a swastika made out of photos of Hillary Clinton’s head. From there the meme made its way to a white supremacist message board.
Trump’s critics—including House Speaker Paul Ryan—labeled the graphic anti-Semitic, but Trump, true to form, blamed the media for his own actions.
“The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site,” Scavino said in his own statement. “It was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear.” He added, “The sheriff’s badge—which is available under Microsoft’s ‘shapes’—fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary and that is why I selected it.”
On Twitter, Scavino was even more defensive. “For the MSM to suggest that I am antisemite is AWFUL. I proudly celebrate holidays w/ my wife’s amazing Jewish family for the past 16 years [sic].”
Scavino is a devoutly religious husband to a wife with what he says is chronic Lyme disease. He's a father who twice met the pope and was named an Inspiring Catholic of 2012 by Our Sunday Visitor. But the idea that he would be down in the trenches of anti-Semitic smut with Trump at 40 years old is not quite the surprise you’d think. Trump seems to inspire a certain kind of Northeastern man to get down in just about any trench with him without a second thought.
Scavino met Trump during his freshman year as a communications major at SUNY Plattsburgh, he told Westchester magazine. Since high school, he’d spent his summers caddying at what was then called Briar Hall Country Club and one day, Trump, who was considering buying it, showed up.
“I’ll never forget the day his limo first pulled up,” Scavino told the publication. “I was star-struck. I remember his first gratuity. It was two bills—two hundred-dollar bills. I said, ‘I am never spending this money.’ I still have both bills.”
Scavino said he remembered Trump saying, “You are going to work for me one day.”
Trump eventually bought the club and renamed it Trump National Golf Club Westchester, and true to Trump’s alleged prediction, Scavino eventually became its manager—succeeding Carolyn Kepcher, who left to join The Apprentice.
In 2008, speaking to the Aberdeen Evening Express, Scavino discussed all the big names who frequent the golf course, including Bill Clinton. “Clinton comes up in the evening with eight Secret Service guys,” he said. “We’ve got to know them pretty well.”
He told HVMag that Clinton is “one of the most unbelievable people I’ve ever met, as far as charisma. He has a tremendous personality and he’ll play with anybody. He plays with Donald and he too loves the game of golf.”
Scavino, who is on the board of the Eric Trump Foundation and, according to his bio there, “has committee involvement with The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, along with the Wounded Warrior Project,” became Trump’s director of social media in February 2016, after first helping to build donor lists, according to one source formerly associated with the campaign.
Scavino soon joined the campaign’s traveling staff which, incidentally or by design it isn’t clear, was populated, too, by politcal novices like himself. Beyond George Gigicos, the director of advance about whom little is known, there is Hope Hicks, the spokeswoman who rarely speaks; and, until very recently, Lewandowski, the campaign manager who’d never run a presidential campaign before he helped Trump all-but secure the Republican nomination. (Lewandowski, who was fired on June 20, now works for CNN.)
Scavino developed a friendship with Lewandowski, with whom he shared his ferocious loyalty to their boss, but he was not similarly pushed out of Trump’s orbit with the hiring of more traditional campaign operatives like Paul Manafort, an establishment lobbyist.
Unlike Lewandowski, who courted and valued power during his time with Trump, Scavino was considered harmless by the Manafort faction of the campaign—his many mistakes notwithstanding. Much like Hicks, Scavino is seen as a facilitator rather than an operator.
But how many hoax videos or anti-Semitic memes can you share before you’re out? That’s the question for Scavino, as he remains in Trump’s ever-professionalizing inner circle despite an apparent lack of professionalism.
—with additional reporting by Gideon Resnick.