There are a lot of things you can say about Donald Trump. Marco Rubio says he’s a con artist; Hillary Clinton calls him a bigot. But Trump supporters only need one word to describe their candidate: “real”.
And what makes Trump seem so real to his voters?
Just look at his Tweets.
Friday morning, Trump tweeted about the upcoming Texas primary:
Trump called Cruz a loser. Not a weak candidate or a disingenuous leader—a loser. Trump’s Tweets cut to the punch, and this tendency has earned him a reputation among voters.
Say what you will about Trump, but his use of social media in this campaign has been genius. Thanks in part to Twitter, he has accomplished what few candidates have been able to achieve: he is seen as a real person, not a construction of a well-paid communications team.
Since the era of Jacksonian democracy, presidential hopefuls have kissed babies and shared pancakes with voters in an attempt to win the trust of the people. This election cycle, most candidates continue this tried and true communications tactic, using social media to post heart-warming photos and quotes; Rubio recently posted some fan art to Twitter, and a prayer:
But Trump cast-off this public relations formula, or at least inverted it. Trump runs his campaign by being “genuine”, or at least by being genuinely snarky. And with Twitter, Trump is able to seem real in real-time, instead of waiting for a speaking event to trill off a long speech.
In July, CNN asked New Hampshire voters why they liked Trump. “No pussy-footing around,” said Frank Candelieri, “He gets right to the point.”
To be clear, showing real character does not equate to having good character. Trump is guilty of countless tweets aimed at insulting minority groups in America.
But in this election, Trump’s bombastic rhetoric has been his most powerful resource in winning support from voters, and Twitter has been a major tool in distributing that tough-talk.
Instead of pushing back on other candidates’ platform, Trump tweets about a candidate’s appearance:
When commenting on debate performances, Trump jeers at his contenders as if he were on Sportscenter:
And when Mitt Romney, a formidable force in American politics, questioned Trump’s finances, Trump responded by questioning Romney’s intelligence:
Twitter lets Trump perpetuate his anti-politician image to voters in a continuous stream that can be easily retweeted and shared. On Twitter, Trump has 6.45 million followers—a million more than Rubio and Cruz have put together. As of today, Trump has won 82 Republican delegates—nearly 5 times more than his top contender, Ted Cruz.
But despite the hype, it’s unclear if Trump’s Twitter presence will redefine campaign communications.
In the past week, Trump has found himself caught up in a series of Twitter snafus. On Sunday, Trump retweeted a quote attributed to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini:
The original Tweet was posted by a parody account run by Gawker. Mussolini's dictatorship was horrifying, but Trump doesn't see anything wrong with sharing a few inspirational quotes on Twitter.
"It's a very good quote," Trump said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Also on Sunday, NBC's "Today"show asked Trumpif he would disavow David Duke, a notable KKK leader who has publicly endorsed him. Trump did not answer the question in the interview, but later took to Twitter to quiet the backlash:
The video imbedded in the Tweet can be viewed on Reuter's YouTube page. In it, a reporter asks Trump how he feels about the recent endorsement from Duke. Trump responds in an exasperated tone, saying, "ok, alright, I disavow, ok?" before moving on the to next question.
These two incidents are prompting a new narrative discerning Trump's Twitter habits; because instead of cutting to the chase, Trump is publishing 140 characters of hateful language. Those Tweets may be Trump's way of keeping it "real", but they're also reiterating ideas that led to the destruction of nations and its people.
Other candidates are choosing to meet Trump’s aggression with an approach that (hopefully) presents them as the more mature choice. Clinton is pushing a compassion campaign aimed at “Trumping” hate:
The Tweet earned Clinton 8,698 retweets and 12,967 likes—but does the sentiment make her seem more “raw” to voters than Trump’s bullying?
And is it really more important for a president to be real, than it is for them to be kind?
There are 8 months left until the race to the White House goes national, but in that time we can certainly expect Trump’s rivals to adjust their communication tactics to meet his real talk. Whether genuine character can be related to voters without tweeting like Trump will be a test for the candidates. Maybe after all of this is over, we can expect players in Washington to understand that, for better or for worse, voters are tired of manufactured politicians.