Every time Donald Trump presses the send button on a social media post, often in the middle of night to Truth Social or X, the defeated ex-president seems to be engaging in self-destruction. Does a man telling a basket of his perceived enemies to “ROT IN HELL” in a Christmas message have the temperament to be president? And when Trump tells America that if he does not win the presidency in 2024, the country will suffer a severe depression, what is he doing? Is he not-so-subtly trying to intimidate you into voting for him?
Therein is the question of why Trump posts tweets that if posted by anyone else would immediately end their presidential campaigns. In 1968, when Senator Ed Muskie cried in Maine, his quest for the White House ended. When Mike Dukakis, wearing a helmet, was photographed awkwardly driving a tank, he was toast. And when Barry Goldwater told America that “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” LBJ’s election was all but guaranteed.
Trump is not yesterday’s presidential candidate—and hopefully not tomorrow’s. He is not even the Trump of 2016. The Trump of eight years ago tweeted but had not yet mastered the art of the angry rant. Eight years ago, Trump’s tweets included calling Senators “embarrassments” and calling critics and media outlets names, but did not include calls to execute, incarcerate, or institutionalize critics (or the judges and prosecutors working to hold him accountable). Can we say that Trump has evolved?
Trump is headed somewhere with his tweets, but is it to insanity? If that is the case, a third of American voters, probably more, are comfortable with a lunatic in the White House. I do not want to believe that. But equally clearly, given Trump’s obsession with returning to power, he is onto something. One theory is that the Trump tweets and campaign speech rants that many of us find disqualifying are the essence of his campaign.
If Trump were to stop tweeting, or even tone his tweets down, his audience would evaporate. His tweets would be run of the mill political blather, boring and predictable. They could pass for something that Mike Pence might write.
When many of us, including “Never Trumpers,” see a headline referencing a new Trump social media post, we read it because it is outrageous. It is not every day that a presidential candidate calls a Black state attorney general “racist” or a governor from his party in a swing state “a stiff” for vetoing a bill.
Maybe the American electorate has lost faith in traditional politics. They hear Joe Biden talking about good news on the economy, but the message is boring, and they don’t listen because Biden is “too old.” They hear Nikki Haley call for “new leadership” (how original!) and yawn. But when they read a Trump tweet or listen to the highlights of one of his long-winded rally speeches, too many of us hear something worth talking about. Democrats remind each other that Trump is the deranged one and is going to jail anyway. MAGA cultists chuckle to each other that Trump has done it again—he has put the leftists in their place, reminding them of who’s boss and done so with something funny.
Trump, I think, knows that his tweeting, and the same rhetoric when delivered in a speech, works. He does it intentionally. Many tweets may be reckless, such as calling the Special Counsel prosecuting you for insurrection and obstruction of justice “deranged,” but Trump has concluded the benefits outweigh the risks. He believes that if he is elected president, Special Counsel Jack Smith, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Judge Arthur Engoron, and his other tormenters go away, one way or another.
Trump may also have concluded that without the tweets, his campaign would not fly. Dare I call that genius?
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.