New life for Musk-Twitter deal raises the Trump question

Brett Samuels

Elon Musk’s renewed interest in purchasing Twitter is again raising the prospect that its most famously banned user could be allowed back.

Former President Trump has been adamant that he will stick with Truth Social, the fledgling social media platform he helped found, regardless of whether he is welcomed back to Twitter. But experts and Trump allies believe the allure of the massive Twitter audience would be too great to resist, putting his future there front and center as the Musk deal shows new signs of life.

“It’s coming…” former Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis tweeted this week, along with an edited video that showed Trump returning to Twitter with a tweet that read: “Your favorite president is back!” as Musk looked on.

Trump has been banned from Twitter since January 2021 in the wake of his tweets around the violence at the Capitol, which followed months of spreading falsehoods about the 2020 election. YouTube and Facebook have both also kicked Trump off their sites.

The ban has deprived him of his preferred megaphone since leaving office, leaving him relegated to posting on Truth Social, sending those posts and other statements as press releases and conducting the occasional interview, typically with friendly conservative hosts.

After a series of snags in negotiations between Musk and Twitter that saw the billionaire try to get out of the deal, Musk on Tuesday said he planned to follow through on his offer to buy the platform on the same terms that were agreed upon in April.

“I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake,” Musk said in May. “It alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.”

A final sale to Musk is far from assured. Twitter sued Musk in July to try to force him to go through with the original deal after he attempted to back out, citing the number of spam accounts on the platform. The company has yet to accept the latest proposal, and the litigation between the two sides is ongoing.

The latest developments, however, have rekindled chatter among Trump allies, critics and Democrats about what the purchase could mean for the former president’s future on the platform, as Musk could quickly move to reinstate Trump to signal he is serious about reforms.

Trump has spent much of the last year posting on Truth Social, where he has millions of followers, and his posts often dabble in conspiracy theories and misinformation about the 2020 election and investigations into his conduct.

“I am not going on Twitter. I am going to stay on Truth,” Trump told Fox News after Musk first offered to buy the company. He has also dismissed Twitter as “boring” and unexciting since his forced departure from it.

But experts and Trump allies believe the allure of Twitter’s reach, its familiarity and its legitimacy with members of the media would make it too much to turn down.

“What we know about Trump and his rhetoric and how it connects to his actions, he will want it to look like he would deign to go back to Twitter,” said Brian Monahan, a professor at Baldwin Wallace University who has analyzed Trump’s tweets and their themes.

“I don’t think it would be immediate, but I think it would be really hard to resist because the impact is so much more pronounced and powerful on Twitter than they have been on his other platform,” Monahan added.

Democrats would almost certainly oppose any reinstatement. Lawmakers warned shortly after Musk first tried to buy the company that bringing Trump back online would lead to a flood of outrageous statements that could incite violence.

Seemingly validating those concerns, Trump posted last week on Truth Social that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had a “death wish,” which lawmakers condemned as a call to violence.

While Trump has nearly 4 million followers on Truth Social, it’s a fraction of the nearly 90 million he had on Twitter. 

Multiple outlets have reported on the satisfaction Trump got as he or an aide pressed “tweet” on a message while he was in the White House, then turned on cable news to see coverage quickly pivot to what he had written.

While some of Trump’s posts on Truth Social still get traction with a wider audience, even Musk dismissed it as “essentially a rightwing echo chamber” in an interview with The Financial Times published Friday.

Part of the reason for that, Monahan argued, is that scores of journalists use Twitter regularly as part of their jobs. When Trump would tweet, his message would quickly spread as reporters retweeted and quote tweeted it as news of the day.

A Twitter reinstatement could lead to much greater exposure for Trump’s musings, Monahan said, as journalists who have largely ignored his posts on Truth Social would once again be able to quickly and conveniently highlight his tweets, even if they contained falsehoods or inflammatory rhetoric.

“A return to Twitter reflexively would give him a little bit more attention,” Monahan said.

Trump allies believe a return to Twitter would largely be beneficial, though they pointed to his previous statements as a sign that he would not immediately hop back on the platform without it being on his own terms.

One GOP operative with ties to Trump’s orbit argued access to Twitter could further entrench him as a kingmaker within the GOP at a time when Trump is mulling whether to run for president again in 2024.

But there is a risk that a reinstatement to Twitter could cut both ways for Trump.

The former president’s return to the spotlight in the news cycle after the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago home in August was followed by a surge in polling for Democrats as they sought to make the midterms a choice between their party and the Trump wing of the GOP.

And Trump has had a tendency to cause headaches with his own tweets in the past, such as when he appeared to contradict his logic for firing former FBI Director James Comey and when he tweeted out attacks on former Vice President Mike Pence as violence was unfolding on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” tweeted Kurt Bardella, a former GOP staffer turned Democratic strategist. “Elon Musk inviting Trump back to Twitter is the October surprise Kevin McCarthy & Mitch McConnell don’t want to see happen.”

Courtesy: thehill