The Trump administration has been remarkably on-message on social media over the past week — that is, if you only look at official Twitter accounts, rather than the president’s personal feed.
The administration tweets touted immigration legislation, provided support for the GOP’s health care bill, defended the president’s travel ban and pushed energy policy. Meanwhile, President Trump’s personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, was dominated by grievances and attacks against the press, culminating in a controversial GIF tweeted out Sunday showing Trump body-slamming a person with a CNN logo over his face.
An NPR analysis of tweets from Trump’s account and other official government accounts — @POTUS, @WhiteHouse, @VP and @PressSec — shows a marked dissonance in focus over the past week. USA Today and the The Washington Post have similarly noted Trump’s tendency to stray far off message.
For comparison, take Vice President Pence’s social media history. More than 4 in 10 of his tweets in the past week focused on health care as Senate GOP leadership tried to get support for its plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Pence pushed the issue more than any of the other top administration accounts.
The vice president tweeted out video and photos of meetings he had in Ohio with people concerned about high costs and losing access to their providers under the current health law, known as Obamacare. Pence shared behind-the-scenes images of a visit to a manufacturing plant. And he stayed on message with the White House’s “Energy Week” push, tweeting about the issue four times.
What Pence didn’t tweet were any attacks against the media or mentions of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election. In fact, other than the @realDonaldTrump account, no other official accounts even mentioned either of those subjects except for @POTUS, which retweeted the president’s personal tweet of the CNN-wrestling GIF.
The official @WhiteHouse account also made health care a main focus, but it and other accounts emphasized immigration and the administration’s travel ban. The administration is backing legislation that passed the House on Thursday that would increase penalties for people who have been deported and attempt to re-enter the U.S. illegally. Another bill now in the Senate’s court would deny federal grants to jurisdictions known as “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. The administration also applauded the fact that the Supreme Court, in deciding to hear arguments on the travel ban, allowed parts of the policy that had been put on hold by lower courts to take effect.
Trump, though, started his week going off tweeting about the Russia investigations, slamming former President Barack Obama for doing “nothing” to stop Russian interference in the elections.
Trump did tweet intermittently about Senate Republicans’ health care bill, but those messages were in his usual biting style, rather than the more measured tone of the official White House accounts. In one tweet, he pushed back on the idea that he had not been “engaged” in the health care debate, a narrative he blamed on the “Fake News Media.”
By mid-week, Trump’s frustration with the media had reached a fever pitch, as he attacked MSNBC Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski in a tweet that many, including Republican officials, said went too far.
What was the official @WhiteHouse Twitter account sending out that same day? Information about the energy roundtable the president held (remember, it was Energy Week!) and the immigration bills that had passed the House.
Trump took umbrage the next day with some of the criticism over those tweets, claiming that his unorthodox social media strategy was still a winning one. However, a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 69 percent of Americans say Trump’s use of Twitter is “reckless and distracting,” while only 21 percent say it’s “effective and informative.”
Even Republicans are split over the president’s social media methods. Only a narrow plurality said Trump’s use of Twitter was positive. Many, perhaps, would like Trump to make his tweets look a little more like the administration’s official feeds.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the president’s approach on Fox & Friends Monday morning.
“The American people see that [media are] trying to interfere with the president communicating directly through his very powerful social-media network channels,” she said, “but also they notice that they don’t cover the substance of the issues.”
Yet over the past week, it was Trump’s personal Twitter feed that was more focused on the media and the Russia investigation than his administration’s policy.