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Commander In Truth: Why Donald Trump is staying faithful to Truth Social

Donald Trump as Jesus | Illustration by Tracy Worrall

13 min read

Donald Trump’s tweets once had the world’s media holding its breath. Now he’s a presidential candidate again, Harriet Symonds explores why Trump is staying faithful to his platform Truth Social – even if it costs him voters. Illustration by Tracy Worrall

It is easy now to forget just how effectively Donald Trump used Twitter (now X) to dominate the news cycle. First as a candidate and then as president, Trump had the world’s traditional media at his fingertips. 

His ejection from the platform – officially for contravening the company’s ‘glorification of violence’ policy following the 6 January attack on the US Capitol – was the final, humiliating neutering following his 2020 election defeat.

The Twitter ban lasted less than a year but in February 2022 Trump launched his own alt-right platform, Truth Social, heavily mirroring the design and model of X. He declared it would be a “free-speech haven” that would not censor users or discriminate against political ideology. Now, instead of tweeting every day, he ‘truths’ and ‘re-truths’ – but can Trump ‘truth’ his way back to the White House in November?   

Trump’s former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci tells The House social media was absolutely crucial to winning that election, acknowledging Trump’s ability to fire up his supporters “is a very real strength of his”.  

“He is a very effective campaigner,” admits Lord Darroch, former UK ambassador to the US, but notes that his style is not to everyone’s taste. In fact, “a lot of people hate it!”

March 2024 | Trump at a campaign rally
Trump campaign rally | March 2024

Trump’s posts, often outrageous and littered with capital letters and exclamation marks, offer an unfiltered peek into his mind – something no politician has done before. “When Trump first started doing this, it cut through because so many politicians are so staid in the way that they communicate,” explains Andrew Chadwick, professor of political communication at Loughborough University.  

Senior Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg tells The House Trump’s tactic of posting shocking things on Twitter has been instrumental to his electoral strategy. “He is a very capable user of social media, which has been very important to his political success. He knows how to prod his opponents into promoting his agenda, which is quite clever.” 

He adds: “They thought the more they wrote about him, the less popular he’d be, and instead, they discovered that actually lots of Americans supported [him].”

Now posting exclusively on Truth Social, Trump’s audience is mostly his own fans. Analysis by Similarweb shows users are 63 per cent male and 48 per cent are over 55 years old. According to Chadwick, they are typically on the “Republican right… champion freedom of speech… and believe the liberal left are infecting the moderation policies of the big platforms”.  

A quick scroll on Truth Social and you’ll find conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being “stolen”, Trump taunting his enemies (e.g. ‘Crooked Joe’) and his fans telling each other how great their leader is. 

The interesting thing about Truth Social is he’s getting less attention but making more money

“There isn’t very much substance there. But his followers love it,” says Darroch.  
The reason Facebook, X, and now TikTok are so successful in political campaigns is because they have the ability to reach voters in their everyday lives – but the same can’t be said for Truth Social.  

Andrew Chadwick points out “it hasn’t really been the success that Trump thought it would be”. Indeed, the platform has struggled to attract new users and has suffered continual technical outages since launching in 2022. It now has a paltry 607,000 daily users compared to X’s 220 million and in the first nine months of 2023 made only $3.4m from advertising.  

“He’s limited himself by being on Truth Social, people re[truth] him but he’s got 80-90 million people following him on Twitter that he no longer attaches himself directly to,” explains Scaramucci. The former president has just 6.64 million followers on his new platform. At Trump’s height on Twitter a single tweet from him could change the news cycle. His influence on Truth Social has arguably been far less impactful.  

Scaramucci points out: “It’s against his interests from an exposure point of view, and so there has to be some economic tie that’s locking him up.” 

In February, Trump Media and Technology Group (Truth Social’s parent company) received the green light to merge with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), Digital World Acquisition Corp, in a deal reportedly worth $9bn. After the merger, Trump will hold a whopping 78 million shares worth around $4bn.  

“Trump only cares about two things and they revolve in his brain fairly frequently. He cares about money, and he cares about attention,” Scaramucci says. “The interesting thing about Truth Social is he’s getting less attention but making more money.”  

The better Trump does in the presidential election campaign, the more his share price soars – although the former president would be unable to sell his shares for at least six months after the merger. If Trump loses the presidency again, and the media attention that comes with it, it would be bad news for Truth Social.  

There is already a dark cloud looming over Trump’s presidential bid. “Despite his domination of the Republican primary process, there are some really serious problems under the surface,” warns Darroch.   

Trump, impeached twice, is now battling 91 felony counts over four separate inditements of election interference, conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, hoarding of classified documents, hush money and falsifying business records. He will likely be hoping the extra cash from his Truth Social merger can help his growing legal expenses. As recently as February, Trump lost a civil fraud case, with a judge ordering him to pay $355m in penalties.  
But Scaramucci says: “I don’t think the legal situation that he’s faced with in the United States is going to stop him.”  

Trump is extremely successful at turning what should be a major setback into an asset. Darroch says the former president has used the four indictments against him as “a weapon for a story of personal persecution and of a judicial system that has been weaponised against him and that’s been very effective”. 

Trump’s tweet of his mugshot following his arrest last August went viral and has now been viewed an incredible 284.7 million times on X. The Trump campaign took full advantage, emblazoning it on mugs, T-shirts, hoodies, bumper stickers and more that his supporters can buy – with the profits going to his legal defence fund.  

We’ve never witnessed a cult of personality like this in American politics

Trump hasn’t shied away from talking about his court cases; in fact, he’s done the opposite by ‘truthing’ his opinion of the trials, those involved, and the “injustice” he’s experienced. Phil Napoli, professor of Public Policy at Duke University, explains that “the more he can portray himself as persecuted by the corrupt system, at least for his base, it’s a slam dunk”.

He adds: “Every impeachment improved his standing with his base… [and Trump] declared publicly that he thinks his mugshot enhanced his standing with Black voters.”

The comments under Trump’s posts are almost as telling as the posts themselves. Every “truth” is met with a stream of support and some even compare him to Jesus Christ. Napoli says: “It is really amazing to see this echo chamber of the faithful there.”  

Trump, exploiting this, ‘re-truthed’ a sketch of himself alongside Jesus in a court dock – the inference being that they were both persecuted for standing up for what’s right.  

Trump is all too aware of how loyal his supporters are. Famously, at a campaign rally in 2016, he said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” 

Scaramucci believes this is still true: “He can be literally convicted in his home state as a sexual predator and it doesn’t matter. To them, he’s going to put hurt on the people they feel are doing well in society versus them.” 

Napoli adds: “We’ve never witnessed a cultTrump Mugshot of personality like this in American politics, certainly in my lifetime.” He continues: “No one has identified anything yet that he could say or do that would alienate him from his base.” 

A big part of Trump’s appeal is his ability to channel the conflict and anger of Americans who feel they have been excluded from traditional politics. Scaramucci says: “What makes them attracted to Donald Trump is the current failure of the American system…    They feel left out.” 

“The American way once was, ‘I’m working super hard, but someday my children are going to do better than me’. I would say 25 per cent of the Americans no longer feel that way.” 

“They’ve gone from aspirational, working-class families to economically desperate and feel they have no champion.” Trump channels their anger in his posts, promising to put America first and talking up his Make America Great Again (Maga) project.  

Napoli describes the Trump we see on social media as “a nasty Trump”. He attacks Washington politics, insults his political opponents, rails against the media and the deep state. One of Trump’s frequently used phrases during the 2016 campaign was ‘Drain The Swamp’ – a rallying cry to root out political corruption. 

“It tends to be a stream of consciousness,” Darroch tells The House. “He is hopeless at sticking to a script. It’s a lot of either his greatest hits, grievances, or invective about his enemies.”  

Scaramucci says: “The great irony is he’s done absolutely nothing for anybody. However, they’re still supporting him because they like his anger.” He explains Trump is an “orange manic wrecking ball” that’s come in to smash the system, adding: “Unfortunately these people want the system wrecked and Trump represents that.” 

According to a recent Gallup telephone survey, 43 per cent of the American electorate now identify as independent. Pew Research found that in 2020 independents favoured Biden, who led 52 per cent to Trump’s 43. So, to win in November, Trump will have to find a way to appeal to independent voters that he couldn’t last time.  

Darroch identifies suburban women, independents and moderate Republicans as Trump’s weakest demographics who were “turned off” after his last stint in the White House. He says the polling indicates these three groups “are reluctant to support Trump: a few may switch to Biden, but some may simply not vote”.

He explains: “People don’t want to think about politics every day. They don’t want headlines screaming: ‘Oh my god, what’s he said today?’ People just got fed up with that.”  

Although it’s clear that Trump’s audience on Truth Social is much smaller, this, ironically, could play to his advantage. Ashlee Humphreys, professor at Northwestern University who wrote the first textbook on social media and an expert witness in a series of court cases against Trump, tells The House: “He can deliver a targeted message to people who are open to receiving it, while delivering a potentially different message to a more general public.” In other words, Trump will be able to feed his base on Truth Social while staying clear of undecided voters who don’t want him in their face every day.  

“He has to go in for these independents. But you know, it’s going to be hard for him because a lot of suburban housewives in the United States don’t like the bullying, his rhetoric, or his style,” says Scaramucci. 

Despite this, the Trump campaign might soon realise the reach of Twitter and Facebook are simply too valuable to ignore. “What it comes back to is a really important strategic problem that a lot of politicians have,” Andrew Chadwick says. “Do you want to use these platforms to genuinely reach out to undecided voters?” The alternative for Trump is to stick with Truth Social and carry on trying to energise the base.

Chadwick predicts Trump will return to mainstream social media platforms: “He’ll probably have to if he wants to reach across to those moderate Republicans that aren’t his base, but he needs to win the election in November.” 

The irony is that X is a better home for Trump now with Elon Musk in charge than it ever was before. “It’s become much less concerned about trust and safety issues. So disinformation, extreme racism, misogyny, harassment of individuals… A lot of liberal-left leaning people have left Twitter, partly in protest against Trump.”  

But Napoli isn’t so sure a return to mainstream platforms would work: “I don’t think Trump’s MO as a social media user is effective for converting those folks.” 

He adds: “The jury’s still out on what extent social media is effective at generating that kind of attitude change, the data has never been that powerful.” 

Scaramucci agrees: “He’s going to lose because the demographic that is supporting Trump just isn’t big enough and he doesn’t have the crossover appeal.” 

Like Trump, Joe Biden is also looking for voters who could be persuaded to his side.  
In October last year Biden joined Truth Social, finally giving Trump supporters an enemy to direct their anger at. Biden explained on X that his reason for joining was “mostly because we thought it would be very funny”. While the account was created in jest, it’s clear his team is serious about using it to reach out to Republicans by posting praise of Biden and poking fun at Trump. 

In February, Biden joined TikTok in an effort to reach younger Gen Z voters – confusing some when only a month later he signalled support for legislation that could see the platform banned in the US. Despite this, he’s been fairly active on the platform and hasn’t shied away from jokes about his age. He has posted videos “exposing” Trump and has even tried to join in on some of the popular trends. However, his growth on the platform has been relatively slow, with only 231.2k followers and 2.6m likes at the time of writing.  

President Biden isn’t nearly as entertaining or talked about as Donald Trump is online – comparatively Biden is considered fairly boring. Napoli says: “There’s nothing particularly innovative or effective happening on the social media front coming out of the Biden campaign, so I don’t see there being much of an arms race.” 

Chadwick agrees but suggests that it’s “part of a deliberate strategy because Trump is so outrageous” and so it makes sense to show Biden as the more measured and sensible candidate.  

He adds: “One of the mistakes that Hillary Clinton made in 2016 is that she almost went too confrontational with Donald Trump and gave him a lot of free publicity… and attacking him, including on social media.” Biden has been careful to avoid falling into this trap so far. During the State of the Union address, he didn’t refer to Trump by name once, instead calling him “my predecessor”.  

It’s an extremely tight race to the finish line, with the latest Economist poll (18 March) putting President Biden and Donald Trump neck and neck, both on 45 per cent. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg tells The House: “I would vote for [Trump] over Biden because I think Trump likes the United Kingdom and Biden doesn’t.” 

But Scaramucci dampens the MP’s hopes: “Joe Biden will beat Donald Trump, despite his age and his relative infirmaries. I think people are going to choose stability versus crazy. I think they’ll choose elderly and sometimes forgetful versus insanity.” 

Anything can happen between now and November. But if Scaramucci is wrong, a second Trump presidency would have a huge global impact at a time when there is so much uncertainty and conflict. Truth Social might just become the go-to platform to hear from America’s president, finally bringing Trump all the money and attention he craves. 

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