Last night's debate was objectively terrible. The mud slinging; the insults; the sniping back and forth between the two candidates. Honestly, it was difficult to watch, and I was embarrassed for all involved, including the American people.
There were numerous moments one could pick out and analyze, most of them grotesque, but there was one in particular stuck out to me. It was when Donald Trump was asked by CNN's Anderson Cooper about the series of Tweets he had sent out, following the first debate, regarding former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, many of which came in the middle of the night.
This is what Trump had to say about that:
"Now, tweeting happens to be a modern day form of communication. I mean, you can like it or not like it. I have, between Facebook and Twitter, I have almost 25 million people. It’s a very effective way of communication. So you can put it down, but it is a very effective form of communication. I’m not un-proud of it, to be honest with you."
That is a fascinating statement, and it's not surprising: in addition to his aforementioned Tweet storm about Machado, Trump has effectively used Twitter as his own personal PR machine. In effect, he has figured out a way to bypass traditional media and develop a more intimate relationship with voters.
Trump is far from the first politician to use Twitter, but he has made it a larger part of his campaign than anyone has previously (I have no recollection of Mitt Romney ever causing a stir on Twitter back in 2012). Social media, however, can be a double-edged sword, and Trump's love of Twitter came back to bite him over the weekend, as many of his fellow politicians used it against him.
As you no doubt heard, Trump found himself mired in a pretty big scandal over the last few days, when leaked audio from 2005 was released, featuring Trump saying some pretty untoward things about women. These comments (which I will not repost here) were offensive enough that a large number of Republicans used it to break away from him, condemning Trump, or officially unendorsing him for president.
Rather than giving their statements to the press, these politicians used Twitter, stating their positions without the need of a filter, or a middleman.
Here are just some of those reactions that rolled out over the weekend:
There are no excuses for Donald Trump’s offensive behavior. Cindy & I will not vote for him. My full stmt: https://t.co/MOw0rx4LSI— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) October 8, 2016
As proud as I am to label myself a Republican, there is one label that I hold above all else - American. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/biRvY8S3aZ— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) October 8, 2016
I will not vote for a nominee who has behaved in a manner that reflects so poorly on our country. FULL STATEMENT: https://t.co/7zUFPXvXPA— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) October 8, 2016
Donald Trump is a distraction. Time for him to step aside so we can focus on winning ideas that will carry Republicans to a victory in Nov.— Mike Lee (@MikeLeeforUtah) October 8, 2016
Even Trump's own running mate used the platform to denounce his words.
My statement below: pic.twitter.com/92VYEAxIcl— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) October 8, 2016
Social media has, without a doubt, changed the way politicians interact with voters. We've seen that with the White House, which has also used social media to get its unfiltered message out.
It launched the @POTUS Twitter account in May of last year. His first Tweet has been liked over 414,000 times, with over 276,000 retweets. Then an official Presidential Facebook page came in November. The POTUS Twitter account now has 9.81 million followers, while the Facebook page has nearly 2.6 million likes.
For politicians who for so long relied on the press to give them attention, and to promote them, social media has been revolutionary. It represents as fundamental a shift in the relationship between those in power, the press and the voters as there has ever been.
Donald Trump may have been the first candidate to truly harness the power of social media, but, as we've already seen, he will not be the last.
(Image source: cds.nyu.edu)