The world of Donald Trump’s Twitter account is a stark one.
Things that Trump likes—himself, people who agree with him, and his Turnberry Resort in Scotland—are “great,” a word Trump has tweeted a whopping 152 times since announcing his candidacy, according to a report from the social media analytics company Talkwalker. Things that Trump doesn’t like—such as Macy’s, Arianna Huffington, and The Daily Beast—are either losing money or they’re a “dummy,” another favorite Trump-ism. Much like his campaign, Trump’s Twitter feed is a parade of self-aggrandizement, swipes at reporters, and childish barbs.
But if the presidential election was a Twitter popularity contest—and thank God it’s not—one thing is clear: Trump would win by a landslide. The Donald would probably take this as a compliment but there’s no one better at Twitter than he is. The relationship between Trump and Twitter is the perfect marriage of man and medium: his terse insults are perfectly suited to the 140-character form and his controversy-a-day campaign feeds off of Twitter’s short attention span. Marshall McLuhan’s reminder that “the medium is the message” has never been more relevant, or more embarrassing.
Just how well is Trump doing on Twitter?
According to PolitiTrends data, Trump has been the most tweeted-about candidate by a wide margin for the last month, frequently becoming the subject of 70,000 tweets per day while his competitors flounder in the 20,000 range. He has 3.43 million Twitter followers, surpassed by Hillary Clinton’s 3.97 million, but according to an analysis by Vocativ he has a much higher percentage of authentic, non-robot Twitter followers (90 percent) than the Democratic front-runner (65 percent). The Talkwalker report provided to The Daily Beast also shows that he has been retweeted 1.86 million times since he first stepped off of that escalator on June 16.
His net worth might be less than he claims but on Twitter, Trump is exactly as large as he appears.
The size of Trump’s Twitter empire can almost certainly be attributed to his Apprentice-driven celebrity status prior to his campaign. Back in May, he was already approaching 3 million followers. After all, Twitter is where people come to gawk at their favorite reality stars—the more unhinged and unfiltered the better—and The Donald is no exception. More so than any other social media network, Twitter is a spectator sport, an arena where blows are exchanged before our eyes. And Trump never fails to supply the drama.
For example, after saying that John McCain was “not a war hero” in mid-July—a gaffe that some thought might end his campaign—Trump took to Twitter, not to apologize, but to double down on his attack.
When he took exception to The Daily Beast’s reporting on an alleged incident between himself and his ex-wife Ivana described in Harry Hurt III’s 1993 book Lost Tycoon as “rape,” Trump went after Hurt on Twitter, publicly calling him a “dummy dope.”
In social media lingo, we might call this “Twitter gold,” the absolute peak of the social network’s well-known propensity for drama. What would Twitter be without public figures like Trump who regularly launch into unexpected and unscripted diatribes on a moment’s notice? In its finest moments, Twitter is a delivery mechanism for journalism and jokes but, at its worst, it is a global high school where bullies have armies and gossip can never be whispered, only shouted. And it’s this latter version of Twitter where Trump reigns supreme.
You could say it’s his natural element.
The other presidential candidates are barred by the standards of human decorum from even considering a challenge to Trump’s Twitter throne. Campaign stuffers are almost certainly managing their social media accounts whereas Trump himself—or someone who has his voice perfected—seems to be the one posting on @realDonaldTrump. (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment about Trump’s Twitter account.)
But this also means that nothing interesting ever happens on the other candidates’ carefully-curated Twitters where boilerplate quotes, logo spam, infographics, and tired hashtag campaigns are the name of the game.
It’s hard (but perhaps also a little amusing) to picture Bernie Sanders letting loose on CNN and loudly calling people “dummies.”
With Trump, you might not get what you want but much like the proverbial box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’re going to get. And in the wilds of Twitter, the element of surprise still trumps all else.
As proof that Trump’s Twitter is the medium’s perfect drama-generating machine, consider his most frequently discussed topic: According to the Talkwalker report, Donald Trump’s most-tweeted term since he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his announcement speech is “Macy’s”—except, of course, for the words in his campaign slogan and generic words like “people” or “country.”
In early July, the department store dropped Trump’s clothing brand due to his disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants, which predictably sent Trump on a Twitter tear. Over the last month, he has urged a boycott of the store, accused them of losing money (a cardinal sin in Trumpland), and tried to connect the store to the ongoing Planned Parenthood controversy:
Each of these tweets has the power to launch a hundred replies and a dozen news posts. Trump almost certainly knows that and embraces it. Why should he use his Twitter for something other than settling grudge matches when all he apparently has to do to maintain his current level of support is bloviate?
As the country waits to hear how, exactly, Trump would #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, his campaign feeds on the perpetual controversy that only Twitter can supply. And for his loyal supporters, it doesn’t matter what Trump says so much as how he says it.
Nowhere does this emphasis on tone over substance play more perfectly than on Twitter. Trump’s brash, insulting online persona gives off the illusion of a straight shooter, someone unafraid to say what he thinks, and it’s precisely that image that has helped him become the unexpected front-runner in the pre-primary polls. If Trump were the sort of candidate who made gaffes on television and apologized for them on Twitter, his campaign would have been over by now. But Trump is nothing if not consistent in his erraticism and his Twitter rants have become a vital part of his brand.
In fairness, Trump does use his Twitter for purposes besides bullying. When Wired examined the most influential anti-vaccine Twitter users who posted on their primary #CDCwhistleblower hashtag at its height, they found that Donald Trump—himself an anti-vaxxer celebrity icon—was one of the 10 most influential, with over 10 million impressions.
Perhaps we should be grateful that Trump tweets more about Macy’s than about policy.
Ultimately, there are no easy answers here, only the mirthless observation that Trump has found a technology that completes him and a platform where he has far more influence than any of the people who could actually become president. Trump and Twitter were made for each other and, as his poll numbers surge, that terrible symbiosis is more concerning than ever. With no way to escape the current Trump-storm, we can only take comfort in a nugget of wisdom carefully curated by none other than the Donald himself: