This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on September 21, 2016.
When Donald Trump was trying to pitch the Scottish government on a new $1.2 billion golf course and coastal resort near Aberdeen in 2008, he gave away swag emblazoned with the official Trump family coat of arms—an ostentatious gold floral pattern surrounding a helmet atop a shield with three lions and two chevronels (the inverted V pattern that is a fixture on police and military uniforms).
But there was one problem: There was no official Trump family coat of arms. His mother is Scottish, but the Trump surname is German. And that meant Trump was in violation of an ancient Scottish heraldic law dating back to 1672, which prohibits unregistered coats of arms. According to the Telegraph, a shield costs £900 to register, and you pay an additional £1,300 for special features like a crest and a helmet, both of which graced Trump’s coat of arms.
Finally, four years after the initial brouhaha, Trump secured permission from the Scottish heraldic authorities for a new coat of arms. In an interview with the New York Post, Trump International–Scotland Vice President Sarah Malone explained the deep significance of the symbols:
“The Lion Rampant makes reference to Scotland and the stars to America,” Malone said, describing the insignia.
“Three chevronels are used to denote the sky, sand dunes and sea—the essential components of the [golf resort] site—and the double-sided eagle represents the dual nature and nationality of Trump’s heritage.”
She added, “The eagle clutches golf balls, making reference to the great game of golf, and the motto ‘Numquam Concedere’ is Latin for ‘Never Give Up’—Trump’s philosophy.”
If you believe President Donald Trump, nearly one million people registered for his June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But come Saturday, fewer than 6,200 people showed up, according to the Tulsa fire department. Large swaths of the 19,000-seat arena were empty, the New York Times reported, and the outdoor overflow venue was such a ghost town that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence cancelled appearances there.
Maybe Trump’s popularity has fallen just that far. Maybe Tulsans were worried about catching the coronavirus. And maybe a horde of K-pop fans and TikTok users successfully pranked the president’s campaign into thinking its rally would be packed to the rafters.
Since June 11, when the Trump campaign asked supporters to register for the event using their phones, social media users been encouraging each other to reserve tickets (for free) to the Tulsa rally with no intention of showing up.
“I just registered for Trump’s rally, and I’m so excited—to not go,” one user posted on TikTok.
It’s not the first time K-pop fans have mobilized en masse for political or social causes in recent weeks. When the Dallas Police Department launched an app for users to send in videos of “illegal activity” taking place at Black Lives Matter protests, K-pop fans crashed it with videos showing their beloved stars dancing and singing. When white supremacists planned a day of action online, attempting to make the racist hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter trend on Twitter, K-pop fans flooded the hashtag with more fancams. And when K-pop boy band BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, its army of fans matched the contribution within 24 hours.
In a statement, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed the rally’s poor attendance on protesters and “fake news media” warning people of the risk of catching coronavirus, which has killed nearly 120,000 people in the US.
He also implied that the real purpose of collecting sign-ups for the rally was to harvest the contact information of people who may later be spammed with fundraising requests and targeted political advertising.
Campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh echoed this in an interview with Bloomberg: “Leftists always fool themselves into thinking they’re being clever,” he said. “Registering for a rally only means you’ve RSVPed with a cell phone number. Every rally is general admission and entry is first-come-first served. But we thank them for their contact information.”
I wonder how well Team Trump’s data specialists are dealing with their new spreadsheets of minors and BTS fangirls.
Underrated part of the tiktok teens and K-pop fans that bloated the Trump ticket distribution: the campaign now has about a million useless names throwing off their databases
The man who kicked off his first presidential campaign with racism about Mexicans rebooted his second one on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a racist fantasia to explain why the police shouldn’t be defunded.
At his first rally since the coronavirus shutdown—originally scheduled for Juneteenth but moved on the counsel of unnamed Black “friends” of Donald Trump—the president asked the crowd to imagine a “tough hombre” breaking the “window of a young woman” at 1 a.m.. Her husband, “a traveling salesman or whatever he may do,” is away.
“And you call 9-1-1,” Trump said, “and they say, ‘I’m sorry, this number is no longer working,'” apparently because emergency dispatch centers have also been defunded in this copless dystopia. Having thus traded Kathryn Steinle for a more generalized racist panic scenario, Trump rounded into his conclusion: “If you want to save that beautiful heritage of ours—we have a great heritage, we’re a great country—you are so lucky I’m president, that’s all I can tell you.”
Trump introduces the new parable of the "young woman" who has a "tough hombre" break into her home while her "traveling salesman" husband is away. pic.twitter.com/c2Af3WkIMo
Attendees of President Donald Trump's June 20 rally, without masks on, cheer Eric Trump.Sue Ogrocki/AP
President Donald Trump’s rally tonight could be, health officials warned, a “super spreader” event—risking a rise in hospitalizations in the community. In light of that potential spread, local health officials in Tulsa have cautioned against the gathering. Still, Trump decided to go ahead with it.
In theory, if someone did test positive for COVID-19 after attending the rally, there would be a need to conduct contact tracing to mitigate the spread. I was curious if the Trump campaign had reached out to local officials to put a plan in place in the event someone does get the virus. You could imagine the campaign potentially helping Tulsa’s 60 public health officials trace to stop the spread of the virus after a mass event, that, after all, they didn’t want in the first place. Resources like the campaign’s databases of tickets could be helpful, for example.
But, nope, the Trump campaign has not talked to city officials about combating any outbreak.
“The Tulsa Health Department has not been contacted by any representatives from the Trump campaign,” the city’s health department told me in a statement.
This is even more worrying considering that, this morning, it was revealed six Trump staffers doing logistics for the rally tested positive for COVID-19. When it was revealed, Trump just got mad that it went public.
Six people working on logistics for President Trump’s Tulsa rally have tested positive for COVID-19, according to NBC News. Twenty-thousand people, none of whom will be required to wear masks, are expected at the rally, which will be held inside.
“Quarantine procedures were immediately implemented,” said a Trump spokesperson, adding: “No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today’s rally or near attendees and elected officials.”
The top health official in Tulsa warned against President Donald Trump’s first rally since the coronavirus pandemic, saying it could cause havoc, including a surge in hospitalizations. Even the president, the official warned, was at risk.
“A large indoor rally with 19-20,000 people is a huge risk factor today in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” he said, as we reported earlier. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”
Health officials have worried that this could be a “super spreader” event. But as we’ve documented in timeline form, the president’s self-regard always comes first, even at the expense of other people’s lives.
President Donald Trump’s campaign ran an ad on Facebook Friday illustrating the campaign’s struggle with how to tarnish his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, while also energizing its base. In this case, can it attack the presumptive Democratic nominee for being 77-years-old without alienating senior voters who are crucial to the Trump campaign’s coalition?
It looks like they may be trying to find out. The ad, which was first posted last month, features an unflattering, black-and-white image of Biden surrounded by question marks. The text reads: “He’s How Old?”
The ad was part of a larger digital push to lure people to fill out an online survey, an aspect of the campaign’s strategy to keep supporters engaged, capture their contact information, and grow its lists. The image about Biden’s age on Friday was used in at least 38 Facebook ads nationwide. Some iterations targeted older people. In one, the image was sent to women over 65 in Florida and West Virginia. Another sent the image to only 18-24 year-old men in Florida.
The Trump campaign’s legendary 2016 digital operation was known for throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck; they boasted about how many variants of ads they ran on Facebook to test which message, which text, or which image engaged supporters most. It’s possible this is part of a similar test designed to see whether attacks on Biden’s age work, and with which demographics. But the attack on Biden could backfire and remind voters that Trump himself is no spring chicken, having just celebrated his 74th birthday this month. It also comes as Trump’s support among seniors is dropping, perhaps the greatest threat to his re-election.
That erosion of support among a once solid demographic goes a long way to explaining why, with less than six months until the November elections, polls consistently show Trump losing to Biden. People over 65 were a key voting block for Trump four years ago when he won them by nine points, according to the Pew Research Center. But polling from as early as April showed those numbers had essentially flipped, with support from seniors shifting to Biden. Florida presents a stark example of the problem: in a must-win state where senior citizens are a powerful voting block, Trump won them by 17 points in 2016. A late April Quinnipiac poll showed Biden leading seniors in Florida by 10 points. In May, Quinnipiac polling showed women over 65 supporting Biden over Trump by 22 points. In the first week of June, a CNN poll found seniors supporting Biden over Trump 51 percent to 47 percent, a split within the polls margin of error but far below what Trump will need to win in November.
While polls were picking up on Trump’s struggles to hold his support among senior voters—particularly senior women—before the coronavirus, the pandemic has made the problem much worse. From mid-March to mid-April, the Morning Consult tracking poll showed seniors going from the age group most supportive of Trump’s handling of the crisis to the most critical. In early June, the same poll showed seniors’ net support for Trump’s handling of the crisis had ticked up just two percentage points, even as other age groups had more favorable views of Trump’s reaction to the virus. These voters are among the most at risk from the virus, and many of them may believe the president has been cavalier with their safety. In March, Trump toyed with the idea that the country should reopen, even if that meant seniors would sacrifice themselves for the economy. Since then, he encouraged protest movements pushing for reopening, in defiance of policies put in place largely to protect older Americans. He refuses to wear a mask. By mid-June, virus cases were growing particularly high in states with large numbers of seniors, including Florida and Arizona. The boomer generation remains the most concerned about the pandemic.
This is the situation in which the Trump campaign seeks out the best strategy to tarnish Biden and win back older voters. According to the Washington Post, the campaign spent much of April debating how to go after Biden as Kellyanne Conway warned that relentlessly mocking Biden’s mental acuity risked further alienating seniors.
Perhaps this ad is meant to test senior voters’ sensitivity to the age issue. But surely a better strategy would be a more conscientious handling of the pandemic that has put their lives at risk.
This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current President—on July 15, 2016.
After a chartered helicopter crashed and killed three of Donald Trump’s top executives in October 1989, the real estate mogul was distraught. “These were three fabulous young men in the prime of their lives,” he said in a statement. “No better human beings ever existed. We are deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to their families.” A few months later, Trump told New York magazine that the crash had shocked him, showing him “how short and fragile life is.” The event, he said, helped convince him he should leave his wife Ivana.
But did Trump cheat death that day? “Sources said Trump himself was scheduled to be on the flight but decided at the last minute he was too busy to leave New York,” United Press International reported the day following the tragedy. Other outlets reported the same claim from the Trump camp, including Long Island’s Newsday and the New York Daily News, which slapped the report on its cover.
At least one biographer, former Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett, believed the claim was a PR stunt. In his book, Trump: The Greatest Show On Earth, Barrett wrote that Trump “did not hesitate to use [the crash] for personal advantage. He planted stories suggesting that he had almost boarded the chartered copter himself, though he’d never ridden to Atlantic City on one, trusting only his [personal] Puma [helicopter].”
And after the DailyNews story about Trump’s close call appeared, one of his executives told the Associated Press it was false. “Trump had definitely never planned to be on it,” said Bernie Dillon, vice president of Trump Sports and Entertainment.
As BuzzFeed noted last year, Trump later walked back his claim that he was supposed to be on the flight. He described it instead as a fleeting idea he had as the executives left his office. “As quickly as the idea had popped into my mind, I decided not to go,” he said in Surviving at the Top, his 1990 book.
This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on October 10, 2016.
If you’ve been following the news about Donald Trump’s charity donations, this is going to come as no surprise: Trump seems to never have followed through on a pledge to donate the profits from sales of his Trump Vodka to charity.
Trump frequently made such pledges while hawking products like “Trump: The Game,” his 2015 campaign book Crippled America, and his infamous Trump University, but there’s no evidence that he ever gave the money he promised to charities. The case of Trump Vodka, however, has an added, poignant twist.
Trump’s older brother, Fred C. Trump, Jr., was an alcoholic who died in 1981 at just 42 years old. Donald has spoken about how his brother’s death deeply affected him. “He had a profound impact on my life, because you never know where you’re going to end up,” he said to People last year. Trump is a famous teetotaler in part because of his brother’s warnings to him about the dangers of alcohol.
So when Trump signed up to promote his own line of vodka (especially to Russian millionaires), he had misgivings. “I sort of hated doing it,” he said in 2005 on his syndicated national radio segment, Trumped!, according to transcripts published by the Wall Street Journal. “I thought about it and what I’ve decided to do is donate any and all money that I make from alcoholic beverages to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers [sic]. I’m going to give 100 percent of that money to them in honor of my late brother, Fred Trump. I guarantee you that Fred is looking down now and saying, ‘That’s really the best thing to do.'”
Except that Mothers Against Drunk Driving doesn’t take donations from alcohol sales, as the group explained to the Huffington Post. In fact, it doesn’t seem he donated the profits to any charity after MADD rebuffed him. “Despite Trump’s promises, there appears to be no record he donated money from Trump Vodka to charity,” HuffPost wrote in June. Trump did, however, sue Drinks Americas, the company that licensed his name, in a New York federal court for $4.8 million dollars (plus interest) he claimed he was owed from the deal. The court dismissed the case, saying it didn’t have jurisdiction.
As for Trump Vodka, the brand started collapsing along with the economy in 2008, according to Bloomberg. Sales declined, Drinks Americas’ credit dried up, Trump Vodka’s distiller went bankrupt, and the booze is no longer sold in the US. But it does live on in Israel, where it’s a dubiously kosher-for-Passover backup option.
This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on October 20, 2016.
We all know Donald Trump firmly believes that size matters. It turns out it matters just as much to him when it comes to the American flag.
Trump waged a yearslong battle with the blue bloods of Palm Beach, Florida, the city where his Mar-a-Lago club is located, over everything from his parties to his plans to convert the former mansion to a club and noise from the local airport. Trump launched yet another fight in 2006 when he put up an American flag that smashed the city’s flag-flying rules. Palm Beach ordinances allowed for flags up to 4 feet by 6 feet on poles as high as 42 feet; Trump’s flag, according to the Sun-Sentinel, was a gargantuan 25 feet by 50 feet on a flagpole 80 feet high.
The city started fining Trump $1,250 a day for flying the flag, but the tycoon was gleeful. “This is a dream to have someone sue me to take down the American flag,” he told CNN’s Nancy Grace in January 2007. The city did not in fact sue, but Trump—predictably—did. He filed a $25 million federal suit against Palm Beach, alleging that the city had violated his free speech and equal protection rights in going after his flag. Flying a smaller flag, the suit claimed, “would fail to appropriately express the magnitude of Donald J. Trump’s…patriotism.” Trump also pledged to donate any damages to veterans returning from the war in Iraq.
After what the Sun-Sentinel said were “secret, court-ordered negotiations,” Trump and the city struck a deal in April 2007. The city would drop the $120,000 in fines against Trump and allow him to keep the flag on a slightly shorter but still technically illegal 70-foot flagpole. Trump, for his part, would drop the suit and donate $100,000 to a veterans’ charity.
According to the Washington Post, Trump wrote to the city a few months later to brag that he’d sent $100,000 to Fisher House, a charity that helps house families visiting hospitalized veterans, and thrown in $25,000 for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial out of the goodness of his heart. But there was still one Trumpian twist to the story. He made the contributions through his foundation—a move that was possibly illegal—which was primarily funded by other people’s money.
This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current President—on November 7, 2016.
Donald Trump is a litigious man. He has threatened to sue the 12 women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. He has threatened to sue the New York Times for publishing a story about his alleged sexual assaults. He sued Univision. His lawyers tried to shut down a bike race in Colorado because it was called the Tour de Rump. He sued an architecture critic for $500 million because the critic said he had bad taste. His real estate company once sued the mortgage company he’d slapped his name on for not paying rent.
So when Trump took over the Miss Universe pageant in 1996, every other pageant in America was soon on notice. Over the next two decades, his lawyers filed legal challenges against at least 23 different pageants, charging that they were infringing on the trademark of Miss USA, which Miss Universe LLP owns. The pageants challenged by Trump’s Miss Universe included Miss South Sudan USA, Miss Sierra Leone USA, Miss Teen Latina, Mrs. USA, Miss Plus USA, Señorita Mexico USA, Mr. and Mrs. Punjabi USA, Mrs. USA International, Miss Arab USA, and Miss Multiverse.
Yes, Miss Multiverse. (The complaint, which was filed in 2015, has not been resolved.)
Miss Universe under Trump (who sold the company in 2015) also filed complaints against Miss Sweetheart USA, Miss Thick’e USA, Miss Thick’e Universe, Miss Chinese USA, Miss Africa USA, Miss Black Universe, Miss Nude Southern USA, Miss Casino Queen of the Universe, Miss Asia-USA, Miss Guinee USA, Miss Gay Universe, Mr. Gay Universe, Miss Hip-Hop America USA, and Miss African-American USA.
Trump’s companies have a very good record in these cases. But he does not always win. In 2003, Miss Universe LLP filed a complaint opposing an application to trademark Miss Nude Southern USA, arguing that it was “confusingly similar” to the existing “Miss USA” trademark. “Applicant’s mark merely inserts additional modifying words (‘NUDE SOUTHERN’) between the words ‘Miss’ and ‘USA,'” his attorneys argued.
The owners of the competing pageant fired back with a compelling argument—adjectives matter. “The strong primary noun NUDE and SOUTHERN arranged between MISS and USA, prima facie contravert any allegation of confusing similarity.”
The two parties eventually reached a settlement and the complaint was withdrawn.
This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files“—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on October 12, 2016.
If Donald Trump has the “world’s greatest memory,” as he claimed in November 2015, he certainly hasn’t shown it off to his lawyers.
In fact, one of those lawyers, New Jersey casino specialist Patrick McGahn, once described how he and Trump’s fellow counsels always met with Trump in pairs because of Donald’s propensity for lying. “We tried to do it with Donald always if we could, because Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory,” McGahn said in a deposition during the bankruptcy proceedings for the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
McGahn said he typically did this with all public figures, but he singled out Trump for his particularly casual relationship with the truth. “Hey, Trump is a leader in the field,” McGahn said. “He’s an expert at interpreting things, let’s put it that way.”
“That’s interestingly put,” his questioner noted.
Trump apparently has recurring memory problems when he meets with lawyers. He told NBC News last November that he had the “world’s greatest memory,” during a controversy surrounding his false claim to have seen thousands of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey. But just three weeks later, he told a lawyer deposing him for one of the Trump University fraud lawsuits that he couldn’t even remember his own comment. “I don’t know that I said it,” Trump said.
President Donald Trump poses with a bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. Shawn Thew/CNP via ZUMA
On Tuesday, Priorities USA Action released a TV ad in swing states attacking President Donald Trump’s handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. The Democratic-aligned super-PAC’s ad ends with the now-infamous image of Trump holding a bible upside-down outside of St. John’s Church by the White House. If the Trump administration hadn’t tear gassed peaceful protesters in order to take this photo, it might now be appearing in Trump’s own ads—it was, after all, the product of a photo op engineered by his own team. But the image, as Priorities sensed, has instead become a symbol of Trump’s failure.
Before releasing the ad, Priorities tested it with an online panel, finding that it moved voters away from Trump and toward Biden. “Trump’s photo op, and the violent clearing of the peaceful crowd that made it possible, is the perfect example of Trump’s failed leadership and the damage it’s doing to our country,” Priorities spokesperson Josh Schwerin wrote in an email.
But Priorities might not have known just how damning the photo-op really was until Wednesday, when data was released that bore out their hunch. This week, Navigator Research released polling that, among other lines of inquiry, asked people if their impression of the photo was positive or negative: 41 percent approved, versus 59 percent who disapproved.
The poll also found that only 23 percent of Americans agreed with the tear-gassing of protesters before the photo-op, meaning that even a majority of Republicans disapproved. “I’ve asked a lot of Trump approval questions on a lot of different things that he’s done, said, tweeted, whatever, for four years,” says Bryan Bennett, polling director at the Hub Project and an advisor on the Navigator poll. “I’ve never seen a single time when Trump was below 50 percent approval among Republicans on anything. It really was a stunning result.”
The Navigator poll showed that the opposition to the tear gas incident was indicative of a larger pro-demonstrator trend: 68 percent of respondents supported the protests. Majorities also believed that the killing of George Floyd and other recent events are indicative of broader racial problems in policing and that Trump is not equipped to handle issues related to race.In fact, they believe he’s making it worse.
When the protesting started and Trump began regularly tweeting the phrase “Law & Order!” it seemed he believed that, much like Richard Nixon did in 1968, he could win a presidential campaign by quelling upheaval for a “silent majority” who disapproved of social unrest. But recent polling shows that Trump—who, after all, is the incumbent—is seen as part of the problem, not the solution.
A majority of respondents to Navigator’s poll, conducted by the Global Strategy Group and GBAO Strategies under the umbrella of the liberal Hub Project, said they did not trust Trump to improve race relations or hold police departments accountable. Further, 54 percent believe race relations have grown worse under Trump; only 15 percent say they have improved. While Trump tweets about law and order, only 39 percent actually believed he stood for these principles.
Other polls have captured similar findings. Priorities’ own polling, released Wednesday, found that racial justice and police misconduct had become one of the most important issues to voters, and that 64 percent of them believed Trump was exacerbating tensions. It’s unsurprising that the poll also showed Trump losing to Joe Biden—though the Electoral College and the way it puts massive influence in a hands of a few states means the race remains close.
Despite the signs that Trump’s tactics have backfired amid a surge of sympathy for the protesters, Trump has doubled down on a politics of white grievance, most recently by going out of his way to support monuments and military facilities that honor Confederates. According to Navigator, this isn’t a clearly popular position anymore: 43 percent support removing such monuments and 44 percent want to keep them up.
While the poll found that attitudes on police brutality toward people of color have shifted significantly, Americans—particularly white Americans—are compartmentalizing this awakening. Tellingly, 74 percent of respondents said that Floyd’s death reflected a broader problem in policing rather than an isolated incident, including 71 percent of white people and a majority of Republicans. Smaller majorities said the same of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by Louisville police in her own apartment, and Ahmaud Arbery, killed by a white man in Georgia while jogging. But just 45 percent of respondents believed that Amy Cooper’s racist threats against birdwatcher Christian Cooper in Central Park were indicative of a broader problem, including just 40 percent of white respondents and 27 percent of Republicans. It’s one thing to acknowledge racism in police departments; but the Amy Cooper incident revealed a pervasive racism among white Americans that their peers may not yet be ready to accept.
Navigator also tapped into a deeper tension that will play out over the next five months leading up to the November elections. Remember, while 59 percent of respondents had a negative reaction to the Bible photo, among Republicans the approval was 78 percent—closer to the level of support the president’s actions typically receive from members of his own party.
Those numbers make the poll’s findings about opposition to the tear gas incident among Trump’s own base all the more remarkable. “I think there’s still a bit of a tension between Trump versus the things that he’s doing,” says J. Isaiah Bailey, associate polling and analytics director at The Hub Project. “You can directly point to some things that Trump is doing, and even his people are like, ‘I don’t like that.’ I think that is going to be a very interesting tension for us to continue to pay attention to.”
Despite the indications that the tear gas incident is a serious vulnerability for Trump, the president is not backing down. On Thursday, he tweeted praise for how soldiers, who were well-equipped and participated in an action where chemical agents were deployed, had managed to “easily” clear out peaceful and unarmed protesters, portraying them as a dangerous group.
Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. “A walk in the park”, one said. The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!
Before nationwide protests over police violence began last week, Trump’s 2020 campaign was a little lost. The job losses following the coronavirus had wiped out its plans to brag about the economy, and it was struggling to find an effective attack on Joe Biden. Now, the campaign has embraced a new tactic: run against the mob.
On Facebook, the Trump campaign is running ads that portray the protests not as the largely peaceful movement against the unlawful deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement that it is, but as violent hordes that must be put down.
“Dangerous MOBS of far-left groups are running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem,” the text of one ad running nationwide on the platform reads. “They are DESTROYING our cities and rioting—it’s absolute madness.” The ad goes on to point the finger at Antifa, a nebulous “anti-fascist” group known for punching Nazis and otherwise getting physical in response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi agitators. But the president uses the loosely defined group, whose use of violence is widely condemned on the left, as a boogyman to paint the peaceful demonstrators as violent and distract from the disturbing and documented violence perpetrated by some police officers on protesters and journalists. (On Monday, Twitter took down a supposed Antifa account urging violence when it discovered it was actually the work of a white supremacist group.) On Facebook, Trump’s campaign has made Antifa a key word in it ads this week.
When the protests began, President Donald Trump and his quickly team decided that the demonstrations were an opportunity to run a “law and order”-style campaign, as Richard Nixon did with success more than 50 years ago in another time of national turmoil. There are plenty of reasons to think this might not turn out the way it did then; to begin with, Trump is the incumbent, while Richard Nixon was not. Trump has been using Twitter, his favorite megaphone, to literally tweet the phrase “law and order” and blame Antifa for the protests. The campaign’s application of his message on Facebook gives it additional reach and scale.
The campaign has also decided to attempt to tarnish Biden—who leads in recent national and swing state polls—by associating him with the protesters. One ad now up on Facebook builds off of a news report that some Biden campaign staff had donated to a cash bail relief fund to aid protesters arrested in Minneapolis.
“Sleepy Joe Biden’s campaign is so RADICAL that they are working to get dangerous ANARCHISTS out of jail at the cost of Americans’ safety,” reads the text of one Facebook ad running nationwide, but with a higher concentration in some swing states such as Florida. “We can’t let them get away with this. THESE RIOTS MUST END.”
Meanwhile, the campaign is running a number of ads that feature former President Barack Obama with a variety of messages. Some portray Obama as a sinister force and flick at the made-up Obamagate scandal, a supposed plot by the Obama administration to derail Trump’ 2016 campaign that Trump himself has pushed. “Barack Obama and Joe Biden have been coming after President Trump since day one and it’s time we expose them for their lies,” reads the text on a number of ads featuring images of Obama overlaid with text saying “Stand Against President Obama.” As black protesters take to the streets, the ads pit Trump not against his actual opponent, Joe Biden, but his African American predecessor.
Another set of ads using Obama’s image acknowledge the former president’s popularity among Democrats, but seeks to drive a wedge between his supporters and Biden—particularly among men, according to Facebook targeting data. These ads show images of Obama looking dejected alongside text reading: “It took 355 days for Cheatin’ Obama to endorse Joe—it’s obvious that even he didn’t want his former VP to become the next President, or else he wouldn’t have waited until Joe was the last man standing—how pathetic.”
All together, the ads make up a messaging campaign that seeks to divide Democrats and engage the Republican base with fear and anger by feeding a belief that peaceful demonstrators are dangerous mobs. That’s the playbook, at least for now.
Demonstrators protest near the White House on May 31, 2020. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Update 2:30 p.m. ET: Following publication of this story, a Facebook spokesperson informed Mother Jones that “a bug kept some ads from displaying in the Ad Library” this morning. The Trump campaign did not in fact pull its ads; they were simply not visible for a few hours. The original story is below.
After a tumultuous weekend of protests, on Monday morning President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign appears to have gone dark on Facebook.
The president has not addressed the nation as it undergoes historic unrest, with the exception of incendiary posts on Twitter and Facebook. On most days, the president’s campaign is running thousands of Facebook ads. But on Monday, the Trump campaign’s page in the Facebook Ad Library showed virtually none.
The only ads running appeared to be a small number selling “Space Force” T-shirts.
The president’s advisers are evidently unsure about how to handle the present moment. Recently, campaign aides and Trump supporters have been pushing for the campaign to unleash its war chest on Joe Biden, while those in charge of the campaign have opted to hold off on such a broadside amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the campaign has struggled to find a message that successfully works against Biden.
Now, with the nation at a standstill, crushed by a pandemic, an economic crisis, and protests against police brutality, Trump’s behemoth Facebook ad machine appears to be at a standstill as well.
I know that there are people all across this country who are suffering tonight. Suffering the loss of a loved one to intolerable circumstances, like the Floyd family, or to the virus that is still gripping our nation. Suffering economic hardships, whether due to COVID-19 or entrenched inequalities in our system. And I know that a grief that dark and deep may at times feel too heavy to bear.
And I also know that the only way to bear it is to turn all that anguish to purpose. So tonight, I ask all of America to join me — not in denying our pain or covering it over — but using it to compel our nation across this turbulent threshold into the next phase of progress, inclusion, and opportunity for our great democracy.
It’s a nice sentiment. But is it enough?
Astead Herndon at the New York Times has a powerful piece out this morning which plainly argues that Biden’s calls for a return to “normalcy” won’t be enough to truly address the concerns of Black Americans: “The former vice president, one of the Senate architects of the modern criminal justice system, cannot confront racism without addressing systemic inequalities, and he cannot address systemic inequalities by simply returning to a pre-Trump America.”
“Our needs aren’t moderate,” Jesse Jackson tells Astead. “The absence of Trump is not enough.”
As you try to process what’s happening today, it’s worth reading Biden’s statement. But then be sure to read the full NYT story as well.
President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as he departs the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., for Camp David on May 15, 2020. Stefani Reynolds/CNP via ZUMA
If you’re a Twitter user, by now you’ve probably seen the news. After years of complaints about President Donald Trump broadcasting falsehoods over the platform, the company finally took a small step to mitigate his misinformation. On Tuesday, the social media giant appended a “get the facts” link to two Trump tweets in which he claimed that mail-in-ballots would result in fraudulent election outcomes.
The link led to a page with several bullet points that refute the president—who, to be clear, was not telling the truth—along with links to reputable news stories providing context and correct information.
This moment was a long time coming, and however it ends, the president and his campaign have spent years preparing for such a stand-off. Since 2016, its has been clear that Trump benefited from an unregulated social media environment, where pro-Trump content that is untrue or incendiary—whether generated by Americans, Russians, or Macedonians—can circulate freely online. The 2016 elections also demonstrated how a completely unregulated social media ecosystem can be a threat to democracy. That year, sites like Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), YouTube, and Twitter served as a gateway to voter suppression and misinformation that undermined the outcome. They could do so again this year. In battles over the the platforms’ role in breeding extremism, conservatives have taken up against efforts to reduce the presence of white nationalists, determining it was a net plus to their political efforts even if it polarized the country.
Since 2016, the social media companies have taken some steps to rein in the worst behavior on their services, including setting up guardrails specifically related to the disinformation around voting. Facebook banned false information and suppressive content on elections in ads. Twitter rolled out its election integrity policy in January. Meanwhile, Trump, his campaign, and Republican lawmakers have engaged in a campaign to keep those guardrails off. Part of this pressure campaign is backed by the threat of regulation. The Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr is overseeing anti-trust investigations into major social media companies, and Republican lawmakers claiming, without evidence, conservative censorship have proposed regulations.
But much of the pressure comes in the form of Trump’s public accusations—an open attempt to work the refs, rile his base, and keep social media companies constantly on defense. With Facebook, Google, and Twitter always battling his accusations of bias, it’s much harder for them to put in place and enforce policies, even if they are desperately needed for the broader health of democracy, that Trump and his allies believe will hurt their political fortunes. And if such policies are ever acted upon, as they were Tuesday, the claims of bias will resonate because Trump has already created a context in which his supporters believe social media is working against them. I wrote about this how this strategy has been deployed in my recent profile of Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager:
But the campaign also gained by bending Facebook to Parscale’s will. An early example came in May 2016, after ex-Facebook employees told Gizmodo that co-workers had suppressed right-leaning content in the site’s trending topics section. A conservative chorus accused the company of discrimination until CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his deputy, Sheryl Sandberg, agreed to meet with a group that included an emissary from the Trump campaign. Facebook denied giving any preferential treatment and conducted an audit to prove it. But three months after the debacle, Facebook fired the contractors who vetted news promoted by the platform, replacing them with algorithms. According to a BuzzFeed Newsanalysis, clicks and shares of fake news stories—most of which favored Trump—soon tripled. The campaign had accused Facebook of bias, and gotten just what it wanted…
From his perch leading Trump’s reelection effort, Parscale has continued and helped drive a larger full-court press by conservative media outlets and lawmakers pushing Facebook and other tech platforms to behave the way they want. In March 2018, shortly after his appointment as campaign chair, Parscale tweeted a warning: “Hey @facebook @Twitter @Google we are watching,” followed by the staring eyes emoji. “This is your opportunity to make sure the playing field is level.” The tweet preceded a barrage of attacks from the president, his campaign, and GOP officials alleging anticonservative bias in Silicon Valley.
It is in this context that Trump shot back at Twitter on Wednesday morning, accusing it and its fellow social media companies of bias—even seeming to throw in a reference to that 2016 Gizmodo story:
….happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!
These tweets do exactly what the campaign has prepared to do in its battle with social media companies: Trump accuses them of bias, threatens regulation, and then goes ahead and repeats the false claim he was aiming to spread, in this case that voting by mail will delegitimize the election. He reminds Twitter of his power over the platform, then dares it to once again fact-check his false claim. How will Twitter respond?
We already know how the company and its peers have responded to this exact treatment over the last several years. Caught between civil rights pushing to get voter suppression and hate off the platforms and Trump and his crew on the right pushing to let repugnant content stay up, the platforms have largely catered to Trump’s concerns.
Twitter’s move suggests that specific disinformation about the process of voting may be a long-awaited exception to that trend. But, when it comes to shaping over policy at the platforms, Trump has many more wins than those who want his false statements and hateful content taken down. Facebook, for example, now allows politicians to lie in their posts and ads. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journalreported that Facebook had internally determined that its algorithms increased polarization and radicalization but chose to do nothing, largely because of pressure from Republicans. And this Tuesday, the same day Twitter finally put its “get the facts” tag on Trump’s tweets, it refused to take down his tweets accusing the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of involvement in the 2001 death of an employee. The president continued making the claim on Twitter on Wednesday.
Facebook, in particular, has repeatedly shown itself to be more interested in pleasing conservatives than cracking down on extremists using its platform. While the company’s own content policies ban hate groups, for example, just last week, a report by the Tech Transparency Project found 153 white supremacist groups’ pages on Facebook. (Many were removed after the report’s publication.) While the company has sought plaudits for its handling of misinformation around the coronavirus, such groups’ enduring presence demonstrate the company’s unwillingness to police other kinds of dangerous information on its platform.
With Trump reportedly growing more worried about his re-election prospects and Election Day in less than six months, his campaign is expected to unleash its war chest. That will include massive spending, particularly on Facebook, where he’ll seek to connect with his audience without filter by the platform. His attack on Twitter is just the latest chapter in a years-long campaign to work the refs to make sure the social media giants feel they have no other option.
Joe Biden speaks on "The Breakfast Club" with host Charlamagne tha God.screenshot
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went viral in a bad way Friday morning, when, at the end of a radio interview with The Breakfast Club, he told host Charlamagne tha God that “you ain’t Black” if you “have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump.”
Progressive activists quickly slammed the former vice president for trying to act like an arbiter on Blackness, while the Trump campaign and the president’s supporters cynically seized the comment, even selling T-shirts featuring it. Later in the day, Biden apologized. “I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted,” he said on a call with members of the US Black Chambers Inc., an organization promoting Black-owned businesses. He added that he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”
But that comment wasn’t the only problematic part of his appearance on The Breakfast Club. Biden also made several misleading or downright false statements about his role authoring the 1994 crime bill and the impact it had on mass incarceration. The much-derided law contained a host of measures to prevent crime—including “three strikes” mandatory life sentences, extra funding for policing and prisons, an assault weapons ban, and the Violence Against Women Act—and is often pointed to as a factor that fueled the disproportionate imprisonment of Black and brown people in the United States.
During the interview, Charlamagne asked Biden about this criticism head on, pushing him on why he has been reluctant to admit that the law “was damaging to the Black community.” The host noted that Hillary Clinton went on the radio show during her presidential run and acknowledged the bill contained mistakes. Biden, though, doubled down. “She’s wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I opposed.”
Eh. That assertion is only sort of true. Here, we fact-check five of his claims to set the record straight.
1. “The crime bill didn’t increase mass incarceration. Other things increased mass incarceration.”
During his campaign, Biden has repeatedly argued that mass incarceration began before the 1994 crime bill passed. On The Breakfast Club, he reiterated that states lock up the vast majority of incarcerated people in this country, not the federal government. This is all true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. And it’s not correct to say the 1994 bill played no part in fueling mass incarceration.
As Biden suggests, incarceration rates grew enormously before his bill passed—by 400 percent from 1970 to 1994, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. But they continued to climb afterward, too, doubling between 1994 and 2009. States did enact tough-on-crime laws and incarcerated many more people than the federal government did during that time. But Biden’s bill encouraged them to do so. As the Brennan Center’s Lauren Brooke-Eisenpoints out, the 1994 crime bill offered states $12.5 billion to construct prisons if they passed “truth in sentencing” laws, which required incarcerated people to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. “By dangling bonus dollars,” she wrote, the law “encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course.” As Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, put it to the New York Times, the bill “created and calcified massive incentives for local jurisdictions to engage in draconian criminal justice practices that had a pretty significant impact in building up the national prison population.”
2. “I opposed that ‘three strikes and you’re out.'”
This, too, is only sort-of true. As the Annenberg Public Policy Centerexplains, there’s evidence that Biden did not support the three-strikes provision that made it into the final 1994 bill, because he worried it could put someone in prison for life for a relatively minor crime. In fact, Biden described the provision as “wacko” in 1994. But before the bill passed, he also went on the Today show and said he did support a three-strikes provision that would incarcerate people for life who committed “serious felonies…that are violent.” “We should take those predators off the street,” he said.
3. “I opposed…any mandatory sentences.”
The reality here is more complicated than he made it seem. Biden may have spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences by the time the 1994 crime bill passed, but he was instrumental in pushing for them in the years before. As early as 1977, Biden advocated mandatory minimums that would force judges to send people to prison for a certain length of time, according to a New York Times investigation. Then in 1984, he spearheaded the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, which “added significant mandatory minimums for many federal crimes and abolished federal parole,” as the Brennan Center points out. (On The Breakfast Club, Biden argued that his intention with that bill was to erase disparities in sentencing lengths for Black and white people, “so nobody based on their color could go to jail longer than anybody else for the same crime.”) In 1986, he co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which set mandatory minimums for crack cocaine offenses that were significantly harsher than sentences for powder cocaine offenses and disproportionately targeted Black Americans.
By 1993, Biden was starting to change his tune on sentencing. “I think we’ve had all the mandatory minimums that we need,” he noted during an event hosted by the US Sentencing Commission. He said some of the mandatory minimum sentences he helped pass previously were “not positive” and were “counterproductive,” according to the New York Times. While the 1994 crime bill did contain more mandatory minimums, it also included a “safety valve” provision that Biden backed, allowing judges to waive these sentences for certain types of offenders.
In 2008, Biden said the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences was “arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjust,” and admitted that laws he helped pass were “part of the problem that I have been trying to solve since then.” In 2010, when Biden was vice president, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced the crack sentencing disparity.
4. “On balance the whole bill…it did in fact bring down violent crime.”
Crime was actually already dropping before the bill passed, by 10 percent in the three years before. Then, from 1994 to 2000, it fell another 23 percent, with violent crime dropping by almost a third.
But criminologists aren’t sure what exactly led to this change and if it can be attributed to the ’94 law. Brooke-Eisen of the Brennan Center argues the crime bill likely helped reduce crime to some extent—”not by locking people up, but by putting more cops on the street,” she writes. The bill “provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and $14 billion in grants for community-oriented policing, for example.” But she adds that “social and economic factors—like an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption—played a role in the crime decline as well.” John Worrall, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas, told the Annenberg Public Policy Center that “the jury is very much still out” on what caused the drop in crime after the bill passed. “Criminologists and economists are in no agreement,” he said, citing theories ranging from economic and demographic changes to tougher sentencing.
5. “The one thing I opposed in that bill was people wanting to give money to state prisons to build more prisons. I opposed it.”
This is just false. Biden was clear in 1994 that he supported offering billions of dollars in funding to build state prisons. “We have not built new prisons to keep up with the increase in violent crime in America,” he said at a June 1994 committee hearing, according to CNN. And the bill, he said, “is partially our attempt to help the states and localities try.” At the time, he did say that Republicans were going overboard by proposing $10 billion in funding for state prisons. But he said $6 billion was an acceptable amount.
And that funding, of course, came with a catch. In order to get it, states had to pass those “truth in sentencing” laws mentioned above. Within three years, 27 states and DC had done so, paving the way to drastically expand their prison populations.
The election is in about six months, and at the moment polls have Joe Biden trouncing Donald Trump. Indeed, Trump has led the presumptive Democratic nominee in only two national head-to-heads all year. As the Atlanticput it, “It is slowly dawning on Trump that he’s losing.”
Polls are polls. The election isn’t for a while! They aren’t written in stone, and they aren’t perfect, but they aren’t meaningless. One person who cares about polls quite a lot is Donald J. Trump. The president has a love-hate relationship with them. Sometimes he loves (one of) them, most times he hate them, and sometimes he lies about them. The constant is that he’s obsessed with them. Trump is no less thirsty for approval today than he was when he would pretend to be John Barron and call the press to give flattering quotes about himself.
But Trump’s desperate need for love clearly doesn’t manifest itself in the traditional way you’d expect. He doesn’t do things that poll well. If he did, he wouldn’t be telling people he’s taking a dangerous unproven drug or try to get the country to reopen during a pandemic. He can’t do those things because he’s too stubborn, lazy, and obsessed with being proven right. Which brings us to a poll from this week.
Public Policy Polling is a liberal-leaning firm with a B rating from FiveThirtyEight. It does normal polls but also does somewhat trollish novelty polls that are designed to get tweeted a lot. On Wednesday it released a survey that was sort of both: A poll of 1,223 registered voters found that 54 percent would vote for Barack Obama over Donald Trump in a hypothetical matchup today. The current president would get only 43 percent. Neither the results nor the fact that Trump must obviously hate them are surprising. Obama’s approval ratings were high when he left office, and his popularity has only grown since, while Donald Trump is historically unpopular and has been since his first day in office.
It would make sense if a person obsessed with polls and frustrated by the fact that his 2016 playbook has not yet proven effective against his current opponent, asked himself whether picking a fight with his much more popular predecessor is a wise move. But Trump can’t ask do this. Barack Obama is his mortal enemy. He has never been shy about this, and if the antagonism between the two has remained at a dull roar in the past few years, that’s only because Obama has gone out of his way to stay quiet about his successor (often to the consternation of liberals yearning for a leader in these misbegotten times). But that is mostly over. A recording of Obama criticizing Trump privately was leaked a few weeks ago. Trump is now ranting and raving daily about “Obamagate,” which is as likely to be a candy created in Willy Wonka’s factory as it is to be a genuine scandal. This is obviously not unrelated to the fact that Obama’s vice president is the presumptive pick to challenge Trump in the fall, after a successful primary campaign largely based on reminding Democrats that he was, well, Obama’s vice president.
And that’s the real self-own here. Somewhere in Delaware, Joe Biden’s campaign team probably has a white board with talking points on it. One of those is probably “Obama! Obama! Obama!” It’s probably been underlined. One of the more curious things that happened in the Democratic primary was that Biden’s opponents kept making his task easier for him. For most of 2019 the rest of the field ran away from Obama, the most popular political figure in the party. Donald Trump’s obsession with Obama, which goes back a decade, is causing him to make a similar mistake.
There is a part of the GOP that will always mash the donate button if you mention Obama. Screaming about him gets a segment of right-wing white voters riled up. Sometimes that’s enough to win a midterm election! But the logic of it is a little wobblier in elections where you need to motivate people who don’t watch Sean Hannity every night.
It turns out there is one thing that Joe Biden and Donald Trump do agree on: This election should be about Barack Obama.
Minnesota’s senators are asking the federal agency that coordinates election policy to allow coronavirus-related emergency funding to be used to protect victims of stalking, domestic violence, and trafficking whose personal information could be revealed through voter registration data.
While nearly 40 states offer some type of privacy for the physical address of vulnerable registered voters, standards and implementation “vary widely,” according to a letter written by Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and sent to the Election Assistance Commission on Monday.
“Many states include the physical address of registered voters in publicly available records,” the senators wrote, noting that victims of domestic violence and stalking have an obvious need to keep their addresses private. “Given that reported instances of domestic violence have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that survivors of domestic violence be able to shield their physical address from any voter registration forms and public databases.”
While the issue is longstanding, the senators they are pushing for resources for states to tackle it because many more people are expected to vote by mail in response to the pandemic. While Congress sets broad conditions on how federal election administration assistance funds, including $400 million included in March’s CARES Act, are spent, the commission offers guidance about what efforts qualify.
Klobuchar is the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which has key jurisdiction over federal elections. She and several other senators, including Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have been focused on election support during the pandemic. The two have driven Democrats’ push for no-excuse mail voting in every state as a response, an effort that has run headlong into opposition from President Trump and other Republicans. Whil Trump has framed mail-in voting as a threat to his reelection and Republican candidates—a claim not borne out by facts—his party generally opposes Congressional efforts to make election policy, claiming they are a form of federal overreach into states’ authority.
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 & get the APP (@TrumpWarRoom) May 18, 2020
It took me a while to figure out what the hell this was even supposed to be, but after talking to some Top Scientists (ie some colleagues) it was explained to me that it is Joe Biden smelling her hair. (Get it? I’m very sorry if you get it.)
In the early days of the Trump presidency there was a regular refrain that you would hear from Resistance types. “This is not normal.” You don’t see it very much anymore because after almost 4 years what isn’t normal anymore? This. This is fucking insane. It is not normal for the president’s reelection campaign to post things like this.
Where did this image come from? Was it created by the campaign? (I reached out to them but haven’t heard back.) If I had to bet though I would guess this was something made by Trump’s “Keyboard Warriors” on Reddit or something. Just a few days ago Trump was celebrating these folks!
Thank you to all of my great Keyboard Warriors. You are better, and far more brilliant, than anyone on Madison Avenue (Ad Agencies). There is nobody like you!
I asked Biden about the drubbing he’s taking in the meme universe, in which he’s often portrayed as doddering and creepy. Biden laughed it off, claiming that “the vast majority of the voters out there, including young people, are not getting all their news from the internet.”
In the story, Hamby talks to Rob Flaherty, Joe Biden’s digital director. He asks about the worry that Biden losing the internet augurs poorly for his chances in November. Flaherty allays these worries: “The job of a digital person is to build the program that is a reflection of the person they work for.” That’s true, and Flaherty admits that in that sense, Trump’s digital campaign succeeds. It is a reflection of the candidate. “Trump is scammy as hell. He’s controversial and just sort of brazen. His program looks like that.”
Biden and Trump are very different people, but this is a very on the nose example of how different they are. Donald Trump has internet poison. He has been Very Online for a decade now and he thinks in tweets and chases the ADD dopamine hit of Likes and Retweets. If you are not Very Online, figuring out what the hell he is even talking about requires research and effort, a suspension of disbelief. Joe Biden is very much offline. Probably too much! And his candidacy is characterized by its unflinching focus on normal people. People who do not live in the high-strung land of pure imagination that is social media.
And so we have two competing theories of the election: Trump is not normal. His campaign shows that. That is how he thinks he won in 2016 and how he thinks he will win in 2020. Biden’s campaign argues that the former vice president is very much normal, and that normalcy is what normal people desperately want.
The question for November is: Whose theory is right?